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Today, we address an example of race discrimination that is so horrible, but is representative of the conduct of many employers subject employees to every day.

What is a hostile work environment?

Best Employment Discrimination Lawyer Answer: Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 it is “an unlawful employment practice for an employer … to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e–2(a)(1). In Meritor Savings Bank, FSB v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57, 106 S.Ct. 2399, 91 L.Ed.2d 49 (1986), this language “is not limited to ‘economic’ or ‘tangible’ discrimination. The phrase ‘terms, conditions, or privileges of employment’ evinces a congressional intent ‘to strike at the entire spectrum of disparate treatment of men and women in employment,” which includes requiring people to work in a discriminatorily hostile or abusive environment. Id., at 64. An unlawful hostile working environment is created when the workplace is permeated with “discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult,” that is “sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create an abusive working environment,” id., at 65, 67 (internal brackets and quotation marks omitted).

In Harris v. Forklift Sys., Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 21–22, 114 S. Ct. 367, 370–71, 126 L. Ed. 2d 295 (1993), the United States Supreme Court explained the upper and lower boundaries of what constitutes a hostile work environment:

This standard, which we reaffirm today, takes a middle path between making actionable any conduct that is merely offensive and requiring the conduct to cause a tangible psychological injury. As we pointed out in Meritor, ”mere utterance of an … epithet which engenders offensive feelings in an employee,” ibid. (internal quotation marks omitted) does not sufficiently affect the conditions of employment to implicate Title VII. Conduct that is not severe or pervasive enough to create an objectively hostile or abusive work environment—an environment that a reasonable person would find hostile or abusive—is beyond Title VII’s purview. Likewise, if the victim does not subjectively perceive the environment to be abusive, the conduct has not actually altered the conditions of the victim’s employment, and there is no Title VII violation.

But Title VII comes into play before the harassing conduct leads to a nervous breakdown. A discriminatorily abusive work environment, even one that does not seriously affect employees’ psychological well-being, can and often will detract from employees’ job performance, discourage employees from remaining on the job, or keep them from advancing in their careers. Moreover, even without regard to these tangible effects, the very fact that the discriminatory conduct was so severe or pervasive that it created a work environment abusive to employees because of their race, gender, religion, or national origin offends Title VII’s broad rule of workplace equality. The appalling conduct alleged in Meritor, and the reference in that case to environments “ ‘so heavily polluted with discrimination as to destroy completely the emotional and psychological stability of minority group workers,’ “ id., at 66, 106 S.Ct., at 2405, quoting Rogers v. EEOC, 454 F.2d 234, 238 (CA5 1971), cert. denied, 406 U.S. 957, 92 S.Ct. 2058, 32 L.Ed.2d 343 (1972), merely present some especially egregious examples of harassment. They do not mark the boundary of what is actionable.

What is an example of a hostile work environment?

Best Race Discrimination Attorney Answer: Pursuant to a recent lawsuit, Harold Powell started working for Pocono Quarry on March 29, 2016 as a loader. According to his complaint:

  • Co-worker Francis J. (“Frank”) Bednarek, a White person, frequently referred to Black people as “n*ggers.”
  • At one point, Bednarek said, “Fuck that n*gger” on at least one occasion in an apparent reference to Powell. Powell was the only Black employee at the Pocono quarry.
  • Bednarek frequently broadcast a podcast or YouTube show over the Pocono quarry’s CB radio channel while he and Powell were operating loaders. The podcast hosts repeatedly and unabashedly used the epithet “n*gger” and made racially stereotyped statements about Black people and other ethnic minorities, including but not limited to, talking about Black people eating “fried chicken and watermelon” and Hispanic persons eating “rice and beans.”
  • Bednarek suggested that Powell went to a Halloween party dressed in a Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard costume only to later reveal that he is African American. Bednarek joked that the partygoers would then hang Powell.
  • Bednarek referred to Hispanic truck drivers as “stupid wetbacks.” Powell’s daughter is Hispanic, which he told Bednarek in response to the comments.
  • When Bednarek saw Powell eating a banana, he commented over the CB radio that Powell was a monkey.
  • Bednarek commented over the CB radio that if Pocono Quarry hired one more Black employee, he and Powell would be able to communicate with one another using “clicking sounds.” Bednarek and other White co-workers reminded Powell of the “clicking sounds” comments and laughed about them.
  • Other White co-workers directed racial epithets at Powell to racial harassment, including but not limited to, “you fucking n*gger,” and “n*gger” in his presence in reference to Black persons generally.
  • Other White co-workers made jokes about the slavery of African-Americans, suggesting that a White co-worker was Powell’s “master.”

Managers obviously heard the conduct on the CB radio and were present for other conduct. Beginning in 2018 continuing through October 2019, Powell complained to his supervisor. When that failed to cure the problems, Powell went to the regional manager. Not only was the racial harassment not corrected, it got worse:

  • A White employee was discussing a news story about a homeless man whose mattress was burned and commented, “Only a dumb n*gger would burn his own mattress.”
  • Bednarek made highly threatening comments about the Black Lives Matter movement while at work, such as discussing firearms he and his wife owned and making statements to the effect that there would be a “race war,” that he was “ready” for the race war, that George Floyd was a “n*gger” who “deserved it,” and that if Black Lives Matter protestors wanted to “riot” he was “ready for it.”
  • Bednarek used his company loader to block the road in front of Powell’s loader to prevent Powell from performing his duties.
  • Bednarek dropped a large boulder near Powell’s loader, an act that could have caused injury or death. In late July 2020, as Powell was operating his company loader, Bednarek, fired his rifle four to five rounds in rapid succession from only several hundred feet from Powell. Powell found that act to be highly threatening, and he left the Pocono Quarry.

Unable to deal with the hostile work environment further, Powell quit on July 29, 2020. This is clearly what lawyers call a constructive discharge that will support a wrongful termination claim. (Best Law Read: What Does “Constructive Discharge” Mean?).

The employer eventually discharged Bednarek from his employment at the Pocono Quarry on or about November 2020. However, the reason for Bednarek’s discharge was not racial harassment and any conduct concerning Powell. Rather, Bednarek was fired for making sexual comments about a co-worker’s spouse.

Employers cannot allow this conduct to continue under Title VII. By allowing even a fraction of the above conduct to continue, the employer violated Title VII. While there are cases where there may be questions if the line into a hostile work environment was crossed, this is not one of them. A whole lot of managers, supervisors and HR representatives need to be fired at Pocono Quarry, who may qualify as being one of the worst employers ever.

How do I sue my employer for racial discrimination?

Best Ohio Race Discrimination Attorney Answer: If the company is discriminating or harassing you 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. Our Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Detroit, Toledo, Akron and Youngstown lawyers are here to fight for your rights.

Disclaimer:

The materials available at the top of this race discrimination page 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 my manager calls me the n-word”, “I’m being discriminated against at work because I’m African American”, “my boss is a racist” or “How do I find the top racial discrimination attorneys in Ohio”, 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.