Workplace Culture

Employer’s Prompt Response to Racial Epithets

By James Denis

Jan. 22, 2010

Rasheen Griffin, an African-American security guard employed by Harrisburg Property Services Inc. in Pennsylvania, was supervised by Thomas Kimble, a Caucasian. Griffin alleged that Kimble began making racially offensive comments in June 2007. Kimble text-messaged Griffin that black people existed because “God left them in the oven too long.” In another text message, Kimble used the word “nigga” and compared “black babies” to bats. Kimble also said that AIDS existed “because black men have sex with monkeys.”

On October 19, 2007, Griffin complained to Harrisburg Property Services’ human resources department about Kimble’s comments, as well as alleged racial profiling by security guards and racially based staffing decisions. After the company investigated Griffin’s complaints, Kimble was issued a final warning for sending “inappropriate jokes.” Griffin was transferred so he would not have to report to Kimble. The company also conducted in-house diversity training for its staff. During a November 2007 meeting, an HR representative met with Griffin to discuss the investigation of his complaints and the remedial measures taken. When asked whether Griffin had further concerns, he replied “no.”

Griffin filed a lawsuit against the company in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, alleging racial harassment and discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In dismissing Kimble’s claims, the district court found that Harrisburg Property Services could not be held liable unless it had acted “negligently in failing to take the appropriate remedial action upon notice of the harassment.” Since the company had taken measures “reasonably calculated to remedy the harassment,” it could not be held liable for Kimble’s conduct, even though those comments created a hostile work environment. Griffin v. Harrisburg Prop. Svcs. Inc., M.D. Pa., No. 08-1655 (11/23/09).

Impact: Prompt investigation of discrimination or harassment complaints, coupled with appropriate disciplinary action, shields employers from such claims.

Workforce Management, January 14, 2010, p. 8Subscribe Now!

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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