Monday, April 16, 2007

Racial Harassment

Today, the Supreme Court has decided not to hear a case on racial slurs in the workplace. According to the Los Angeles Times, Robert Jordan was fired shortly after complaining about a comment made by a co-worker following the capture of John Muhammad and Lee Malvo, better known as the DC Snipers. The White co-worker said, "They should put those two black monkeys in a cage with a bunch of black apes and let the apes [sexually assault] them."

If I were in Jordan's place, I would have been offended as well. That's an offensive comment. Period. Also, this was not the first time that the co-worker had made a racially insensitive comment, as Jordan found out from other employees. With little action available, Jordan reported his issue to the manager. He was summarily fired. He sued the corporation.

This case is now over as the Supreme Court refuses to hear it. But, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Paul Niermeyer said, "No objectively reasonable person could have believed IBM's office was in the grips of a hostile work environment." The lower court also said that an isolated racial slur does not create a hostile work environment.

As you can see, there are two primary problems with this issue. To deal with the 4th Circuit first, I do not know how saying letting two men get raped in a cage with black apes does not create a hostile work environment. That's liable to get me on a swearing tangent if someone said that in my workplace. To deal with the lower court, this was not an isolated slur as the employee had a history of making such comments. Counseling does not eliminate systemic racism. It is offensive to me that discrimination rules do not apply in racial situations. Racial discrimination is just as nefarious as sexual/gender discrimination and should be offered the same protections under the law. I am disappointed in the Supreme Court for not taking a positive step in ensuring that EVERYONE can work in a safe, trusting environment.