- Two Waste Management workers have filed lawsuits alleging a "racially hostile, intimidating, and offensive work environment" at a Topeka, Kansas, facility.
- The employees — one previously employed and one currently employed at Rolling Meadows Landfill and Recycling Center — filed suit in November and February, respectively. Both plaintiffs, who are represented by the same attorney, requested "damages in excess of $100,000."
- The two plaintiffs, both racial minorities, described having safety concerns dismissed and experiencing discriminatory treatment compared with their White co-workers. One plaintiff, who is Black, said co-workers said phrases like "Yessum Boss" to him, showed him racially derogatory videos and taped a racist joke to his locker. The other plaintiff, who is from American Samoa, was often told, "That is the way we do things in America," according to the suit, and was passed over for a promotion due to his use of Family and Medical Leave Act leave. Both plaintiffs said they spoke with the human resources department and that HR failed to take "reasonable remedial action," including conducting an investigation. Waste Management did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
Employment discrimination based on race is prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, along with discrimination based on color, religion, sex, national origin and — as determined by the Supreme Court's 2020 decision in Bostock v. Clayton County — sexual orientation and gender identity.
Racial discrimination suits are among the most common suits filed by employees, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; in 2020, race-based suits made up nearly a third of all those filed, falling only after retaliation (55.8% of suits) and disability (36.1% of suits).
An analysis of 20 years' of EEOC data found that race-based claims filed at that agency have the lowest chance of success; more recently, since the Biden administration took office, the agency promised "renewed attention" on "systemic discrimination and systemic racism," suggesting a reinvigorated interest in the area. (These cases, however, were not filed by the EEOC.)
Waste Dive, HR Dive's sister publication, has written about diversity issues central to the waste and recycling industries. Representatives from Waste Management spoke about steps the company was taking to advance its D&I goals. One of those goals included increasing ethnic diversity within different segments of the company, "with an emphasis on leadership."
According to one of the plaintiffs, however, he was twice denied a transfer in favor of less experienced, White applicants. He also described being passed over for a promotion in favor of a White co-worker he had trained.
The role of HR was pertinent to both complaints, which alleged the department at Rolling Hills was largely unresponsive. HR can address employees' concerns and help companies avoid Title VII lawsuits by providing a safe and trusted space for workers to lodge complaints, employment lawyers previously told HR Dive; they also can deal directly and immediately with complaints that arise and conduct harassment training.