- The Shedd Aquarium violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when its research ship fostered a "toxic culture" toward the only female crewmember it ever employed, a recent complaint alleged (Edgerton v. Shedd Aquarium Society No. 1:21-cv-2443 (N.D. Ill. May 6, 2021)).
- The plaintiff, hired as a hospitality coordinator, alleged she encountered "an environment profoundly hostile to women" that included sexist comments and double standards.
- The plaintiff alleged she was reprimanded for requesting breaks to cope with the dizziness she experienced while painting the ship's deck. The male crewmember working alongside her, however, received no rebuke, despite shouting expletives at the captain after he pointed out a mistake in his work, according to the plaintiff's complaint.
Claims like the ones levied against Shedd Aquarium aren't uncommon. While anti-discrimination laws such as Title VII have existed for years, HR professionals continue to battle sexism and other types of discrimination in the workplace.
Ethical management has proved to be an effective strategy against toxic workplace cultures. When supervisors model ethical behavior and give employees space to discuss their work-related worries, they curb misconduct in their reports, 2019 research from San Diego State University found. Managers can further encourage professionalism by practicing good communication, offering positive reinforcement and providing emotional support, the researchers said.
To more actively root out toxic behaviors, HR may need to focus on its reporting systems. Research released in early 2020 revealed that nearly a third of workers avoid going to HR with their problems. Some seasoned professionals suggest normalizing whistleblowing to encourage workers to come forward with reports of misconduct. Others have highlighted the importance of a robust, reliable and effective reporting process.