Are Employees Protected From Racial Harassment By Customers?
Having represented racial discrimination victims for more than two decades, our racial discrimination lawyers in Marion County, Florida know that a common employment law myth is that employees have no legal protection from racial harassment by customers. An employment law myth perpetuated by employers who justify their failure to protect employees from racial harassment by claiming they have no control over customers. Indeed, employers routinely maintain they are not responsible for racially abusive customers because customers, unlike employees, cannot be controlled by disciplining or firing them. Disingenuously portraying themselves as helpless victims with no ability to control the conduct of customers, employers require their employees endure racial abuse from customers as a condition of their employment. In this article, our racial discrimination lawyers in Marion County, Florida explain how the decision in EEOC v. 98 Starr Road Operating Co., LLC, 2023 WL 4557751 (D. Vt. July 17, 2023) demonstrates that employers are obligated by federal employment discrimination law to protect their employees from racial harassment by customers.
Protection From Racial Harassment
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of race. Under long standing law, racial harassment is a form of racial discrimination prohibited by Title VII. To violate Title VII, racial harassment must be sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create an abusive working environment. Once an employer knows or should know of racial harassment in the workplace, an employer is required by Title VII to take prompt and effective remedial action to prevent the harassment from recurring. When the employer takes no remedial action, or the remedial action taken does not stop the harassment, the employer is liable under Title VII for creating and maintaining a racially hostile work environment.
Racial Harassment Lawsuit
In that case, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) brought a racial harassment lawsuit on behalf of six former employees of 98 Starr Road Operating Co., LLC, d/b/a Elderwood at Burlington (“Elderwood”), pursuant to Title VII. The EEOC claims that the six employees (“the Employees”), who are African-American, were required to work in a racial hostile environment in violation of Title VII.
Elderwood operates a long-term care facility. The EEOC asserts that the Employees were subjected to severe and pervasive racial harassment by residents of Elderwood’s long-term care facility. The EEOC contends that the racial abuse included racist slurs and other racially offensive epithets. The EEOC also alleges that a one resident subjected the Employees to race-based threats and race-based assaults, including stating that he wished he could hang African-American employees and that he wanted to get a gun and shoot African-American employees. The EEOC further alleges that another resident subjected the Employees to violent physical conduct, including punching, hitting, and smacking them. The EEOC maintains that the “race-based comments and conduct were constant and ongoing.”
The EEOC contends that Elderwood was on notice of the race-based comments and conduct experienced by the Employees because its managers and supervisors personally observed it and received complaints from the Employees. The EEOC claims that Elderwood “failed to prevent and then failed to take prompt and effective remedial action stop or remedy” the alleged racially harassing behavior. The EEOC further claims that in addition to failing to take corrective action, Elderwood allegedly denied that on-going racial harassment was taking place and disregarded the Employees’ complaints. The EEOC alleges that Elderwood advised the Employees that it was a resident’s right to say “what they want” including racial slurs.
Employers Responsible For Customers
Elderwood filed a motion with the trial court seeking dismissal of the EEOC’s racial harassment claim. Elderwood argued that it “cannot be liable for the discriminatory acts of its resident-patients because its residents are not its employees, cannot be fired or disciplined.” The trial court denied Elderwood’s motion for dismissal and ruled that the EEOC had alleged sufficient facts to state a racial hostile work harassment claim.
In denying Elderwood’s motion for dismissal, the trial court explained that “it is well-established that employers may be liable for harassment by third parties when that conduct creates a hostile work environment, and the employer knew or reasonably should have known about the harassment and failed to take reasonable remedial action.” The trial court also observed that “it makes no difference whether the person whose acts are complained of is an employee, an independent contractor, or for that matter a customer.” Indeed, the trial court noted, “ability to control the actor plays no role” in an employer’s obligation to protect its employees from racial harassment. Because “employers have an arsenal of incentives and sanctions (including discharge) that can be applied to affect conduct,” the trial court pointed out, “it is the use (or failure to use) these options that makes an employer responsible” for protecting its employees from racial harassment from employees and customers.
Free Consultation For Discrimination Victims
One of the most important decisions racial discrimination victims must make is which racial discrimination lawyers to consult with regarding their rights under federal employment discrimination law. As part of our dedication to helping racial discrimination victims, an experienced racial discrimination attorney will speak with you personally and you will receive the individualized attention your case deserves. We offer free confidential case evaluations for employees, and you will not have to pay to speak with our racial discrimination lawyers regarding your rights. We are available for consultation at your convenience, including scheduling telephone consultations for evenings and weekends.
Marion County Racial Discrimination Lawyers
Based in Ocala, Florida and representing workers throughout Florida, our racial discrimination attorneys in Marion County, Florida have dedicated their practice to fighting for the rights of racial discrimination victims. If you have been racially harassed at work or have questions about your protection from racial harassment under federal employment discrimination law, please contact our office for a free consultation with our racial discrimination lawyers in Marion County, Florida. Our employee rights law firm takes racial discrimination cases on a contingency fee basis. This means that there are no attorney’s fees incurred unless there is a recovery and our attorney’s fees come solely from the monetary award that you recover.