- An African-American employee who was fired from her job at General Motors was unable to show that she experienced discrimination, retaliation or a hostile work environment; the 6th U.S. Court of Appeals ruled her claims were properly dismissed on summary judgment (Hunter v. General Motors LLC, No. 19-1884 (6th Cir. April 13, 2020)).
- Cynthia Hunter claimed that she was scapegoated for a male co-worker's mistakes, but she did not specifically identify the mistakes, and "one instance of scapegoating during a three-year tenure does not permit an inference of discrimination," said the 6th Circuit. Additionally, while Hunter's supervisor allegedly called women "uneducated," "sloppy," and "lazy," the court said "mere rude statements" were not sufficient to prove differential treatment.
- Hunter claimed that her supervisor treated female employees disrespectfully, did not allow female employees to work from home, blamed her for the mistakes of male employees and excluded female employees from meetings. This conduct was discriminatory, said the court, but not sufficiently severe or pervasive to "create an abusive working environment." The supervisor's comments about a hypothetical child between Hunter and a white co-worker were similarly "inappropriate and offensive" but did not create an abusive working environment, said the court.
As this case illustrates, employers can sometimes escape liability even in the face of problematic conduct and comments. This does not mean, however, that there is ever a level of workplace harassment or bias that could be considered safe or acceptable.
Employers can avoid potential liability by having comprehensive anti-bias and anti-harassment policies, ensuring that all employees are aware of the policies, and training managers to apply those policies in a fair and consistent manner. Working to nurture an inclusive, respectful culture in which bias and harassment have no place is also an important step toward reducing bias allegations.
It's also important to remember that experts suggest all complaints be thoroughly and promptly investigated, even if they seem minor or are frequently raised by the same employees.