Human Resources News & Insights

Chalk up another win for solid anti-bias policies

Racial bias claims are among the most painful experiences an employer can go through. But as this case shows, carefully policies and quick response can mitigate the problem and protect the employer from legal peril.

Here’s a rundown of the case, courtesy of attorney Adria B. Martinelli of the firm of Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor, writing on the Delaware Employment Law blog:

Jeneka Peace-Wickham, an African-American, was hired as a manager in the Café at the Delaware Memorial Bridge facility of the Delaware River and Bay Authority (DRBA).

Shortly after she began employment, she got into a heated argument with a Caucasian co-worker, which resulted in both of them filing claims of racial harassment against the other. Peace alleged that some of the Café customers (primarily DRBA employees) made racially inappropriate remarks.

Another customer remarked to Peace that the Café had “changed” since Peace’s arrival, and Peace took this to be motivated by racial animus because the previous supervisor was Caucasian.

Peace’s list of complaints continued to grow. By the time she was done she’d filed numerous internal complaints, two charges of discrimination with the state Department of Labor, and claimed that her rejection for a promotion was the result of her race and the fact she’d filed charges.

The case finally ended up in federal court.

Employer responded appropriately

In court, the judge ruled the DRBA was not liable for discrimination or retaliation. It noted that Peace couldn’t provide proof of any  overtly discriminatory statements or conduct by her supervisors — which weakened her claim that supervisors could be held directly responsible for any hostile environment that may have existed.

More importantly, though, was the  court’s finding that DRBA took appropriate remedial steps in response to allegations of discrimination once it became aware of them.

In response to Peace’s complaints that it took to long to investigate and conclude her initial harassment claim, the DRBA revised its investigation procedures. It also posted anti-harassment signs and instituted diversity and harassment training for all employees.

Bottom line: The employer’s quick response to the complaints,  its flexibility in adjusting investigation procedures and the adoption of diversity and harassment training saved the day in court.

Cite: Peace-Wickham v. Delaware River and Bay Authority. For a look at the full court decision, go here.

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