- An African American quality assurance manager was fired due to customer complaints and other performance issues, not because of racial bias (Beasley v. Warren Unilube, Inc., No. 18-2655 (8th Cir. August 9, 2019)).
- The manager received three sets of customer complaints during his three-year period at Warren and also had a poor showing during an annual ISO audit, the court documents showed. Other operations employees, all of whom were white, were reassigned and/or written up for related deficiencies; one was eventually fired.
- The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a district court's summary judgment ruling in favor of the employer. The employer had articulated a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the termination, and there was no evidence that the employee had been treated differently on the basis of his race, the court noted.
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), race discrimination involves treating an applicant or employee unfavorably due to race or "personal characteristics associated with race (such as hair texture, skin color, or certain facial features)." Color discrimination, the EEOC has said, involves treating someone unfavorably because of skin color complexion.
Although the court upheld that racial bias was not a factor in this case, bias in the workplace remains common. More than half (64%) of surveyed employees reported experiencing bias in the past year, according to recent research by Deloitte, and 83% of those employees said the behaviors/comments were subtle and indirect. Deloitte characterized these sorts of actions as microaggressions.
Not all bias is subtle or indirect, of course. Earlier this year, an African American phlebotomist was awarded $1.5 million by a jury after a co-worker addressed her by a slur and used another often at work; other co-workers made negative comments about her skin color and tampered with her work. In another recent case, "severely offensive" slurs were found to have created a racially hostile work environment for one worker.
Sexual harassment has received a lot of attention lately due to the #MeToo movement, but it's important to remember that all kinds of bias and harassment in the workplace are illegal and demotivating. Training for managers and employees should be inclusive, frequent and cover a wide range of topics, experts have said.