Human Resources News & Insights

Judge throws book at employer for egregious racial harassment

The racial harassment in this case was so egregious, a  federal judge issued a rare summary judgment in favor of the EEOC.

In so doing, the judge found that three black employees were subjected to an objectively hostile work environment and that the employer may not assert an affirmative defense to liability — in other words, there was no defense for the company’s actions.

African-American employees won a rare partial settlement judgment after the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed suit on their behalf against the Holmes & Holmes Industrial, Inc., construction company in Utah.

During the course of their employment with Holmes, African-American employees said that:

  • a site superintendent referred to black employees as “n—-rs” or a variation of that word almost every time he spoke to them, and frequently told racial “jokes,” such as, “why don’t ‘n—–s’ like trees? Because they are used to hanging from them.”
  • Holmes employees told racial “jokes,” and several used the term “n—-r-rigging” while working there
  • Holmes’ HR manager asked employees “not to n—-r-rig their jobs” during a meeting for all Holmes employees
  • one of Holmes’ supervisors referred to rap music as a “n—-r jig” said that “there is a difference between n—-rs and blacks, Mexicans and spics,” and
  • racist graffiti was evident both inside and outside portable toilets on the work site.

Employees complained at least four times to management, but nothing was done.

That may have been due to the company’s harassment policy, which only gave staffers the option of reporting harassment to the harassing manager, with no alternative available.

U.S. District Judge Dale A. Kimball put it best when he said the harassment in the case was “constitutionally offensive in any setting” and concluded that this:

“is a rare case where there is no dispute as to the pervasiveness of the conduct in question. No reasonable jury could find that a reasonable African-American would not be offended by this conduct.”



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