- Air Systems Inc., a San Jose, California-based electrical subcontractor violated federal law by tolerating racial harassment of African-American workers at the Apple Park construction project in Cupertino, California, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charged in a lawsuit announced earlier this week.
- According to EEOC's suit, the harassment from individual workers included racist graffiti and epithets drawn on the walls of portable toilets around the jobsite, as well as a noose hung with a threatening note. The company allegedly failed to act when notified by two African-American employees that a white coworker had taunted them with a slur. The lawsuit alleges that the graffiti was present on a daily basis and that all ASI employees, including its managers, used the portable toilets. "ASI management admitted that it saw offensive graffiti but did not take action to remove it," it states.
- ASI has refuted the allegations. "Upon learning of these troubling allegations, the company initiated a comprehensive investigation and took swift corrective actions, and we have cooperated fully with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission during its review," a company spokesperson said in a statement. "We believe, however, that the complaint is without merit and we intend to vigorously defend against this lawsuit."
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits harassment based on race and requires employers to take prompt action to investigate and stop misconduct after they receive notice of it.
"Federal civil rights law requires that employers take workplace harassment seriously," said EEOC San Francisco Regional Attorney Roberta Steele. "When alerted to the ugly and hateful speech and acts in this case, an employer must take swift and effective corrective action."
While an EEOC guidance makes clear that petty slights, annoyances, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) will not rise to the level of illegality, employers are expected to investigate employee complaints and take action to prevent misconduct in the future. Additionally, experts say employers may want to focus on prevention, creating robust policies and implementing training.
Kate Tornone contributed to this article.