The transportation and trucking industry - which has traditionally employed mostly white males - has long been hit with discrimination claims based on race, sex, disability and other protected classes. A recent jury award demonstrates that companies will pay a hefty price for allowing a racially charged atmosphere and failing to respond to race discrimination and harassment complaints.
In Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. A.C. Widenhouse, Inc., 1:11-cv-00498 (M.D. N.C. 2013), two black truck drivers claimed they were repeatedly subjected to unwelcome derogatory racial comments and called "n----r," "monkey" and "boy" by white supervisors and co-workers. One of the drivers alleged that he was approached by a co-worker with a noose and told, "This is for you. Do you want to hang from the family tree?" and asked by white employees if he wanted to be the "coon" in their "coon hunt." The other driver claimed he was told by the company's general manager that he was the "token black" and "Don't find a noose with your name on it" and referred to having some of his "friends" find him in the middle of the night.
The drivers alleged that they repeatedly complained to management and a company owner, but the harassment continued and they were fired for complaining. A jury awarded the two drivers $200,000 in compensatory and punitive damages and will now decide back pay damages as well as injunctive relief.
Advice for Employers
This case reinforces the notion that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) will aggressively pursue cases of race discrimination and harassment to send a strong message to employers that this type of conduct will not be tolerated. As result, it is critical for employers in the transportation and trucking industry to take affirmative steps to prevent race discrimination, including the use of racial comments, slurs and stereotypes. Employers should implement and enforce a zero tolerance policy for discrimination, harassment and retaliation, and aim to create a diverse and tolerant workplace.
It also demonstrates the importance of providing comprehensive discrimination and harassment training for all employees and supervisors. Supervisors must set an example for the rest of the workforce by engaging in appropriate behavior and knowing how to identify and respond to allegations of discrimination and harassment. Further, an employer needs to make sure that it responds to all complaints in a prompt and thorough manner by conducting an investigation and taking remedial measures if necessary.
Employee Management > EEO - Discrimination
Employee Management > EEO - Harassment
Employee Management > EEO - Retaliation
Discrimination - Supervisor Briefing
Bullying and Harassment - Supervisor Briefing
How to Prevent Race Discrimination in the Workplace
How to Deal With a Complaint of Race Discrimination