If an employee makes racist posts to a private Web site and the company takes no action, is it guilty of allowing discrimination and harassment?
A group of African-American officers has filed a lawsuit against the Philadelphia Police Department, claiming a Web site founded by a fellow officer and used by many other cops has led to a hostile work environment.
The site was created by a Philadelphia police officer in 2000 as a place where officers could talk about crime, police news and gossip, as well as promote local events, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. But certain news stories often elicit racist comments from some of the users.
For example, the phrase “ghetto monkey faces” was used to describe a group of minority children involved in a discrimination suit against a local swim club. (Incidentally, the law firm representing the African-American police officers is also involved in that case.) Another post was made with the headline “Guns don’t kill people, dangerous minorities do.”
The site is not formally affiliated with the department, and the creator said he does not maintain the site on city time. But the complainants claim the department is aware of the site and has allowed posting to continue, which has created a hostile environment in the workplace. Also, the officers claim the site’s users frequently post comments while at work.
The site’s creator is also named in the suit. He said he disagrees with the racist comments, but did not want to limit discussion and was never asked to take anything off the site.
Past complaints about the site have not been acted on by the department, the plaintiffs say. The department says it can’t discipline employees for posts they make on a private Web site.
Lawyers warn that companies do have a responsibility to prevent harassment even when it takes place outside of work on a site not affiliated with the employer. We’ll keep you posted as the case develops.
What do you think? Is the police department for allowing a hostile work environment to develop? Or did they make the right choice in not disciplining employees for conduct that wasn’t work-related?
Give us your opinion in the comments section below.
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