Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Washington will pay one of its African American employees $140,000 to settle racial harassment allegations by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Kaiser will also provide other resolutionary relief, the federal agency announced on Tuesday.
Per the suit, filed in 2021, the Black employee explained that her co-worker’s use of a racial slur was offensive and discriminatory. That colleague would not stop, prompting the plaintiff to report the behavior to her employer.
The EEOC found that, despite reports of racially-charged language, Kaiser’s HR department “failed to adequately investigate subsequent complaints about the racially hostile work environment and did not take adequate remedial measures to stop the racial harassment” in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Per the consent decree, Kaiser must also retain a DEI consultant to review the health company’s equal employment practices.
Kaiser will also “adopt and disseminate written expectations” to holding managers and HR accountable for EEO compliance, the May 16 EEOC announcement stated, adding that Kaiser must provide additional training to its employees, managers, HR staffers and Tacoma Medical Center workers.
What can HR learn from this?
Banning racism in the workplace is the bare minimum of compliance. HR is legally obligated to go further than having an anti-racist policy.
It’s noteworthy that EEOC is holding Kaiser leadership accountable to re-assessing their workplace fairness policies, as well as asking Kaiser to disseminate written expectations to managers and HR staff, and to provide additional workplace fairness training. HR pros can get ahead of the compliance curve by bringing these measures into the fold.
Employers must also thoroughly investigate harassment complaints, EEOC San Francisco District Director Nancy Sienko said in the EEOC’s statement. (The San Francisco District has jurisdiction over the Bay Area and Washington state, among other west-coast regions.) When it comes to hostile work environments, Sienko said, HR is responsible for taking “effective action.”