- UPS and some managers at an Ohio distribution center are facing a lawsuit from 19 workers who claim they were subjected to race discrimination spanning a decade and that the conduct was "aided and abetted" by the package delivery company's onsite top-brass, including HR professionals (Dewayne Spears, et al. v. United Parcel Service, Inc., et al, No. G-4801-CI-0201901762-000 (Lucas County Court of Common Pleas March 13, 2019)).
- The plaintiffs said that, in addition to numerous specific incidents of racism directed toward them as individuals and as a group, a racially discriminatory culture "permeated employment decisions," including those related to pay, discipline, promotions and assignments. UPS allegedly "disregarded established objective standards and procedures for making employment-related decisions, including but not limited to seniority rules, job posting procedures and bid processes intended to ensure fair treatment." The complaint detailed allegations involving displays of nooses, slurs and more.
- The employees have asked for compensatory and punitive damages and the costs of the litigation, including attorneys' fees.
Title VII prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. The law forbids discrimination when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoffs, training, fringe benefits and any other term or condition of employment, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). A failure to address harassment can amount to discrimination and harassment can include, for example, racial slurs, offensive or derogatory remarks about a person's race or color or the display of racially-offensive symbols, EEOC says.
A robust reporting mechanism and staff training can prevent employer liability. Experts often note that manager training is an important aspect of preventing discrimination and harassment claims. EEOC has recommended that training be periodic and explain the types of conduct that violate an employer's anti-harassment policy and that can lead to lawsuits; the agency also recommends that employers explain the seriousness of the policy, the responsibilities of managers when they learn of alleged harassment and that retaliation is strictly forbidden. In addition to compliance training, anti-bias training can include ways to recognize and reduce the impact of prejudice at work.
HR must take all complaints seriously, experts say. Jonathan Segal, a partner at Duane Morris, has advised that responses to such concerns be prepared in advance, suggesting that both HR and front-line managers be trained to say, for example, "Thank you for raising your concerns with me. I want you to know we take them seriously." EEOC also suggests that employers designate at least one person outside the employee's chain of command to receive complaints because, in some situations, supervisors and managers are the accused harassers. After complaints are raised, a good-faith investigation should follow.
Employers also can go one step further and keep track of supervisors' and managers' conduct to ensure they carry out their responsibilities under the organization's anti-harassment program. For example, an employer could include compliance in formal evaluations, the EEOC suggests.