The U.S. Department of Justice has sued a county in Georgia, alleging its HR department not only failed to put a stop to “abhorrent” misconduct but also racially harassed the employee who reported the issue.
A Bartow County employee complained to his supervisor after a co-worker used a racial slur in a text message, DOJ said in its Oct. 13 announcement. The HR director then called the employee into his office, “where he subjected [the employee] to additional, severe racial harassment in front of the employee who sent the racist text message.”
The HR director also allegedly demanded to know whether the employee had informed anyone else of the text message, DOJ said, and the employee responded that he had informed his brother-in-law, who also worked for the county. Citing misconduct, the county roughly two weeks later fired both workers, who are Black. Both had been promoted several times and had no prior history of discipline with the county, the department said.
The pair filed discrimination charges with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission which referred the claims to DOJ as is required for public sector lawsuits. DOJ subsequently sued the Georgia county, alleging violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which bars employers from retaliating against employees who complain about discrimination in the workplace (United States of America v. Bartow County, No. 4:22-cv-00232 (N.D. Ga. Oct. 13, 2022)).
It is unacceptable for an employer to foster “a work environment where employees with the courage to report such abhorrent behavior experience retaliation from supervisors and face termination of their jobs,” said U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Buchanan for the Northern District of Georgia in a statement. “Our office will vigorously and continuously leverage our resources to address this type of illegal discrimination in the workplace.”