Best Ohio Employment Discrimination Attorney Answer: Can I sue because my boss plays favorites at work? Can the owner of the company promote his unqualified son or daughter over me for a position that I earned? What is Nepotism? What should I do if my supervisor calls me the n-word? Is Nepotism Illegal?
When looking at whether or not Nepotism is illegal or not, we need to look at what could make nepotism illegal (if anything at all can). What is surprising, is that nepotism may be more common than we think- but being replaced by another person’s family member begs the question: is nepotism illegal?
One of our employment lawyers’ all-time favorite shows is The Office. Our attorneys are always quoting lines and talking about various episodes. I am probably not alone in saying that there are certain characters on The Office that make us think of our co-workers. Maybe your office is like the Spitz law firm and you have the occasional chili cook off. Maybe there’s a co-worker in your office that is funny like Jim, or caring like Pam, or quirky like Angela. I always laugh internally when I think of the Kevin’s Famous Chili Scene, but hands down, one of my favorite episodes of The Office is the Nepotism Episode. It’s so great, in a funny and cringe-worthy way. In that episode, Michael hires his nephew, Luke, as the new office assistant. Although everything goes smoothly at first, it soon becomes clear that all Luke does is goof off, and never actually works. Dunder Mifflin employees get annoyed by Luke’s insubordination, and confront Michael about disciplining Luke. It comes out that Michael is related to Luke and refuses to hold him to the same standard as all of the other employees. Does that sound familiar to your workplace, and is nepotism illegal?. Even though the office has some “larger than life” scenes, the basic premise of the episode, “nepotism,” is pretty spot on. Most bosses don’t discipline their employees by public spanking them, but then again, we’re employment law attorneys, we’ve seen almost everything. And one question we always get: Is Nepotism illegal?
Nepotism is when a boss, manager or supervisor favors an individual because of a family connection to that individual. It is a form of discrimination that the employment attorneys at the Spitz law firm are all too familiar with. Every day, people call in to complain that their boss promoted the new employee, who also happens to be boss’s nephew, son, daughter, cousin and so on. So, Is Nepotism Illegal?
Unfortunately, in Ohio, nepotism on its own is not illegal. Is nepotism fair? Absolutely not. Is nepotism good business practice? Nope. Does it suck for everyone else in the office? Yes. Is nepotism illegal? No. Playing favorites is not illegal. If you work in the private sector, there is almost no protection for employees against nepotism.
Unfortunately, both federal
and Ohio state employment laws do not require your job to be nice or fair.
Employment laws don’t give you a claim if your boss is an asshole or if your
manager is an idiot. It is not wrongful termination if the owner fires you to
hire his freshly graduated from college son or daughter who knows absolutely
nothing about what to do and you have been doing the job for a decade.
Let’s take a closer look at Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which is a federal employment discrimination law, and Ohio’s similar R.C. § 4112.02(A). Our frequent blog readers know it is illegal to treat an employee less favorably because of their race/color, religion, gender/sex, age, or national origin. Likewise, the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) protects against disability discrimination; Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”) protects against age discrimination; and Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (“PDA”) protects against pregnancy discrimination. So, unless the discrimination or harassment falls within a specifically protected category, the employee is out of luck. That’s right, your boss can harass you all day by calling you an idiot – but he or she cannot call you a Mexican idiot. You job can fire you if you are left handed, but not because you are African American or Jewish. Your manger can terminate your employment because you refuse to change your schedule unless he or she is asking you to work a shift when you go to church or temple. The owner of the company can make your job contingent on washing his or her car, but not make it contingent on having sex or engaging in sexual acts with him or her. Again, this is not about what is fair or right, but what is legal or illegal/against the law in your workplace. Is Nepotism Illegal? if you are protected by the law, discrimination is discrimination- family or not.
So, back to the issue of if nepotism is illegal in this context. On some level, it is human nature to treat family members better than outsiders. If layoffs are required to keep the business afloat, who is the easier choice? Nancy, who is a good employee but does not come to family holiday parties, or Cousin Eddie, who is at your house every other weekend? Likewise, it is easy to discipline an employee for being late to work, but it is much more difficult to write up and discipline a sibling for being late, even if they are a terrible employee. That does not make it right, but it is sometimes the reality of working in a family business.
As you may have
become accustom to with our employment lawyer’s blog, our discrimination
attorneys have a real-life employment law example for you to
consider. Curtis Smith worked for a local restaurant chain in Maine. It was a
staple of the community. Great American Real Food Fast, hired Smith on July 24,
2014. He was the night shift supervisor and cook. Smith was also the only
African American employee at the restaurant. In May 2016, Smith witnessed a
fellow coworker steal some food from the restaurant. What should a manager do
when he observes theft? Report it, right. Unfortunately for Smith, the employee
he was reporting was his supervisor’s son.
Smith reported the incident neither the supervisor nor the owner of the
restaurant did anything to correct the son’s behavior. Nepotism. Non-related
employees would have been fired for theft, but again – not fair, but not
against the law.
just got worse for Smith. Smith was terrorized by the manager/mother-thieving-employee/son
duo for weeks. Again, is it stupid and unfair to go after an employee that
reported theft? Absolutely, but not against the law. Indeed, it would have been
completely legal for the employer to fire Smith for reporting theft, even if he
was correct. (Now, had he reported a health or safety violation in writing,
Smith would have had a potential whistleblower claim, but we
are getting a little sidetracked).
After a bit
manager/mother-thieving-employee/son duo’s harassment turned the corner and
they started making racially derogatory remarks. Smith said that they
constantly made racially motivated references to him liking watermelon and
fried chicken and said things like, “I bet you’re in a gang.” Now, as
employment lawyers, we look at this as crossing the line drawn by Title VII and
Ohio employment laws. This harassment
was motivated or based on Smith’s race – the fact that he was Black.
In November 2015,
Smith reported the son/employee again for breaking company policy giving away
free meals to family and friends against company policy. When the supervisor’s
son found out that Smith reported him for breaking company policy, he asked
Smith, “are you the HNIC?”
asked the son what HNIC stood for. The son responded, “Head nigger in charge.” Okay,
In Pennsylvania State Police v.
Suders, the United
States Supreme Court held: “To establish hostile work environment, plaintiffs …
must show harassing behavior ‘sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the
conditions of [that employee’s] employment.’ Meritor Savings Bank, FSB v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57, 67 (1986);
see Harris v. Forklift Systems, Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 22 (1993) (“[T]he
very fact that the discriminatory conduct was so severe or pervasive that it
created a work environment abusive to employees because of their
Can a singular
use of the N-word be enough to create a claim? Unfortunately, our race
discrimination lawyers have blogged about single acts of racism being
sufficiently horrible to create a hostile work environment. Frequently, our attorneys
come back to the decision by a federal appellate court in Ayissi-Etoh v. Fannie Mae, et al., which provides: “perhaps
no single act can more quickly alter the conditions of employment” than “the
use of an unambiguously racial epithet such as ‘nigger’ by a supervisor…This
single incident might well have been sufficient to establish a hostile work
environment.” (See Can I Sue If My Boss Racially
Discriminated Once?; Race Discrimination: Using
The “N-Word,” Even Once, Can Create A Hostile Work Environment; and Can I Sue My Employer If My
Boss Calls Me A Lazy Stupid African? Best Lawyer Reply!) Our workplace
discrimination attorneys have talked about Judge
Kimball’s holding that: “No reasonable jury could conclude that a reasonable
African-American would not be offended, even in a blue collar setting, by the
daily use of the word ‘nigger’ and other racial jokes/comments by white
supervisors.” (See Racial Discrimination:
Defendant Who Argued That The Term “Nigger” and “Monkey” Not “Slurs But,
Rather, As Terms Of Endearment” Shockingly Loses, Pays Large Sum Of Money.)
employment law in mind, let’s return the alleged chronology of events by Smith.
He reported the son again, but instead of reporting him to his supervisor, the
son’s mother, he reported it directly to the owner. The owner said that he
would take care of it. The owner told Smith that the two would not return to
work. Good for the owner. But, wait…
After about a
week the both mother and son back were at work like nothing had happened. Smith
said the two were even worse when they came back to work. When Smith asked the
owner why the two were still working there, the owner told him that he would
have to “figure out a way to work with them if he wanted to keep his job.”
Excuse me? Not
only is that a completely inadequate response, but it is also one that violates
the law. Under Title VII, after Smith complained to his boss that he was being
discriminated against by co-workers his employer had a duty to take adequate
and prompt action to remedy the situation. Usually that looks like written
warnings, counseling and depending on the severity of the situation, suspension
or termination. If you ask me, using the N-word at work deserves immediate
termination, or at the very least an unpaid suspension at the very least. It is
never okay for a boss to tell an employee to figure out a way to “deal
with it” and work with their discriminators. By doing this, the owner put the
burden on the employee who was called the n-word and racially harassed to
figure out a way to change his behavior so that everyone could work together!
After he was told to figure out a way to work
with the pair, Smith said that he didn’t feel safe at the restaurant. He filed
a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission, which is the state
equivalent of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
(“EEOC”). (See Top
Employment Law Attorney: Do Not File With The EEOC Without Doing This First; File
With The EEOC Or Get A Lawyer? Call The Right Attorney; Should
I Get A Lawyer To Help Me File An EEOC Charge?; and Should
I File With The EEOC On My Own? Call The Right Attorney).
Smith used the commission to resolve the issue. Two
weeks later he returned to work under “conditions that were acceptable to both
parties.” That likely means that the two parties went to mediation to discuss
the Smith’s issues with his work environment. When he returned to work, he was
pressured by one of the company representatives to drop his discrimination
complaint. This is a big problem when an employee files with the EEOC without
the help of a qualified employment lawyer. Smith didn’t give up his claim but
said that he would drop the complaint when all the issues were resolved. Seems
In July 2016, one week after he came back to
work, he said that he was retaliated against. Under Title VII and Ohio
employment laws, retaliation against an employee for
reporting discrimination is unlawful. (See Can I Be Fired If My Father
Reported Race Discrimination At My Job?; Fired In Retaliation For
Reporting Sex Harassment?).
Specifically, when Smith showed up for the morning
shift to work, he discovered that there had been virtually no cleaning done
during the night shift. He came into work to a completely dirty food prep
station that was assigned to him for the day. Smith said that the dirty food
preparation station was retaliation for not dropping his discrimination
Enraged by the
clear retaliation, Smith left work for the day. He immediately called his
attorney and the attorney filed a law suit on his behalf claiming
discrimination on the basis of race. Smith was fired three days later. It’s
tragic that in 2019, African American workers are still subjected to this kind
of clearly discriminatory behavior. It has absolutely no place in the world, and
definitely no place in the workplace.
In conclusion, this employer
was not only racist but dumb – real dumb. The owner or manager could have fired
Smith for reporting the thieving son right away. These employers did not need any reason or
they could have said, “we are firing you because you reported a family member
and we believe in nepotism.” Would this have looked stupid? Yes. Would they
have lost credibility in the eyes of their employees? Absolutely. But, would it
have been illegal? Nope.
Instead, the employer tried
to force out the black employee by racially harassing him and discriminating
him. They tried to get his to quit by making a racially hostile work
environment. That’s when it became against the law.
If you feel that you are
being discriminated based on your race, whatever race that may be, then call the right attorney. Race discrimination includes being harassed, fired, wrongfully terminated, discriminated against,
demoted, wrongfully disciplined, and denied wages. When you call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation,
you will meet with a race discrimination lawyer from the Spitz law firm who
will help you determine the best way to pursue your legal claims. Call our office at 866-797-6040.
The materials available at
the top of this racial discrimination webpage and on this employment law
website are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of
providing legal advice. If you are still asking: “What should I do if I was
wrongfully fired today because of my race”, “I’m being discriminated against because
I’m black”, “my boss is discriminating against me because he is a racist” or “How
do I report race discrimination in the workplace”, your best option is to contact an Ohio attorney to obtain advice with
respect to race discrimination questions or any particular employment law
issue. Use and access to this employment law website or any of the links
contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship. The
legal opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the
individual lawyer and may not reflect the opinions of the Spitz law firm,
attorney Brian Spitz, or any individual attorney.