Not Taking Complaints of Race Discrimination Seriously can be Costly

January 3, 2008

When an employee complains about how co-workers are treating him or her it is never appropriate to respond, “That’s just boys being boys, and that’s the way it is here at [insert defendant company’s name].”

According to media accounts that is how Lockheed handled complaints of racial harassment that included being called derogatory names and being threatened by co-workers.  Lockheed settled for a record $2.5 million (the largest settlement of an individual race discrimination case filed by the EEOC).

Discrimination claims involving harassment by co-workers are some of the more manageable HR situations. However, if the first point of contact for a complaint doesn’t treat the allegations seriously, the employer loses its ability to manage the situation. Employers have a good defense to harassment claims if the following are present: an effective complaint procedure; an adequate investigation into the complaint; and prompt and appropriate remedial action.

The effectiveness of the complaint procedure is greatly enhanced if first line supervisors and managers are trained to treat seriously conversations with or comments by employees that may later be characterized as complaints of discrimination.