Employer pays $110K to settle claims it fired worker for opposing racist training video
- A Louisiana credit union has agreed to pay a former branch manager $110,000 to settle a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) bias lawsuit.
- The former employee, who is African-American, opposed the use of a training video that depicted a caricature of a black fast-food worker as an example of "how not to provide customer service." After she complained about the video, passing along the fact that another African-American employee had also been offended by it, she was fired without warning or explanation.
- In addition to the monetary relief, the settlement agreement requires the credit union to provide regular retaliation training to employees.
Experts continue to recommend that HR take all complaints seriously. HR's (and managers') first concern should be avoiding any inference of retaliation. Even if an employee is incorrect or alone in believing that an employer's practices are illegal, his or her protest may still constitute protected activity.
EEOC notes that there are three elements to a retaliation claim: protected activity, which consists of participation in an EEO process or opposition to discrimination; a materially adverse action taken by the employer; and a causal connection between the protected activity and the materially adverse action.
"Participation" may include, for example, filing or serving as a witness in an administrative proceeding or lawsuit alleging discrimination. "Opposition," on the other hand, is defined more broadly as including many ways in which an individual may explicitly or implicitly oppose perceived employment bias. EEOC says the manner of opposition must be reasonable, and the opposition must be based on a reasonable good-faith belief that the conduct opposed is, or could become, unlawful.
In training sessions — especially those with managers — HR may need to reinforce what retaliation looks like, and the penalties that can be incurred. Attorney David W. Garland of Epstein Becker Green wrote in a contributed piece for HR Dive that certain localities, like New York City, have enacted laws that require employers to include retaliation in anti-harassment trainings. Given prior research that suggests the majority of U.S. managers overseeing one to two employees have a training deficit, HR may be behind on these and other forms of needed training.