“(Company) does not tolerate harassment, discrimination or retaliation. We have strong policies and practices against harassment, discrimination and retaliation and provide regular training on those policies and practices. We encourage employees to report issues immediately. We investigate those issues thoroughly.”
Has your company ever issued such a statement? How much will that statement protect it against harassment or discrimination allegations? Let’s look at a real live case, just filed about 2 weeks ago to see… The case is LeiRoie Bowie et al v Mitsubishi Electric US Inc et al. Here is some of what allegedly went down: LeiRoi Bowie worked as an elevator mechanic for Mitsubishi Electric US Inc in Oakland California. On June 26, 2019, he arrived at his construction site and found a noose wrapped around a wooden barricade next to the elevator on which he was assigned to work. Mr. Bowie is African-American. He has also allegedly encountered racist graffiti on Porta-Potty walls. He complained to the head foreman, who allegedly said, “What do you want me to do?”. He called another foreman. The matter was escalated to Human Resources, without any resolution. The superintendent allegedly told Bowie that it wasn’t a “real noose”, because “a real noose has 13 loops”.
Bowie and 3 other skilled Black mechanics filed suit in Alameda County Supreme Court on September 11. The complaint is replete with allegations of years of racially-motivated abuse, threats, and comments–along with photographic evidence — that allegedly went unaddressed by Mitsubishi Electric’s HR Department. All four employees also allege that they were denied overtime opportunities and given menial tasks while white apprentices were given actual elevator work and the chance to advance. One employee, while home recovering from a stroke received a visit from his boss with his last paycheck and a termination notice, and was only able to return to work after complaining to his union.
Another mechanic allegedly encountered a drawing of a black monkey on a job site in late 2018, and then a hanging man drawing on an elevator entrance door in October 2019, followed by “KKK” in the hallway a month later. All the mechanics alleged being called the “N-word” and being subjected to racist jokes with management even laughing at the jokes.
I’ve barely even scratched the surface of the allegations, but I’m sure you get the point.
Mitsubishi’s statement in response to the filing of the lawsuit is essentially the one you saw at the beginning of this post. Most employers have similar statements. Most employers may even have anti-discrimination, anti-harassment and anti-retaliation policies — as Mitsubishi Electric says it has.
Guess what: If even some of the elevator mechanics’ allegations are true, Mitsubishi Electric’s statements and policies without more, will be useless in protecting them against liability.
Wait a minute. If their policies and statements are useless, then why should any employer bother with creating and maintaining them in the first place? EEO statements and policies are necessary — as a starting point. It’s not enough to say “We don’t tolerate harassment or discrimination. We have policies prohibiting it.” The moment of truth comes when there actual harassment or discrimination occurs and an employer is called upon to address it. An employer who does not discipline the employee(s) who harass or discriminate is not enforcing its policies and is not standing behind its statements. Such an employer is showing that it doesn’t take its statements and policies seriously — and therefore its employees won’t either.
It’s not enough for an employer to say it’s committed to providing a harassment and discrimination-free workplace. An employer that does not follow through on its stated commitment, that doesn’t enforce its own policies remains vulnerable to liability for harassment and discrimination. Let Mitsubishi Electric be a lesson to all employers.
Until next time…
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