Are Employees Who Complain About Harassment Based On An Interracial Relationship Protected From Retaliation?
For more than twenty years, our Citrus County, Florida employment attorneys have fought for the rights of racial discrimination victims. Having represented racial discrimination victims for more than twenty years, our Inverness, Florida employment lawyers know that employees are often harassed because of their association with a person of another race, such as a family member. For example, employees are harassed because their child is biracial or they are in an interracial marriage. In this article, our Citrus County, Florida employment attorneys explain how the recent decision by the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Kengerski v. Allegheny County, Case No. 20-1307 (3d Cir. July 29, 2021) demonstrates that when employees are harassed because of their association with a person of another race, federal employment discrimination law protects them from retaliation when they complain about the harassment.
Interracial Association Discrimination
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) makes race discrimination an unlawful employment practice. Title VII protects employees from several different types of race discrimination. Title VII protects employees from being discriminated against or harassed because of their race. Title VII also protects employees from being discriminated against or harassed based on their relationship with a person of another race, such as a family member. Courts commonly refer to the later type of discrimination as “associational discrimination” or “interracial association discrimination.” Generally, most discrimination claims based on interracial association involve close familial relationships, such as marriage or parent-child.
Employee Claims Unlawful Retaliation
In Kengerski a man named Kengerski brought a retaliation claim against his former employer, Allegheny County, pursuant to Title VII. Title VII protects employees from retaliation when they complain about perceived racial discrimination or harassment in the workplace. Kengerski contends that Allegheny County violated Title VII by firing him in retaliation for complaining about racially harassing behavior by his supervisor.
Kengerski, who is white, worked as a correctional officer at the Allegheny County Jail in Pittsburgh. On April 29, 2015, Kengerski submitted a written complaint to the jail’s warden about “harassment and inappropriate text messages” from his supervisor, McCall. Kengerski’s complaint alleged that after informing McCall that is grand-niece is biracial, McCall referred to his grand-niece as a “little monkey.” In his complaint, Kengerski also claimed that McCall sent him “inappropriate racial text messages,” which included racist images and remarks regarding African-Americans. Seven months after complaining to the jail warden, Kengerski was fired for allegedly encouraging employees to provide false testimony in an internal investigation.
The trial court dismissed Kengerski’s retaliation claim. The trial court determined that Kengerski was not protected from retaliation by Title VII because the discriminatory harassment he complained about was directed towards African-Americans and Kengerski was not African-American. Thus, the trial court believed that Title VII did not protect Kengerski from retaliation unless he complained about discriminatory harassment based on his race. In doing so, the trial court also refused to recognize a claim for interracial association discrimination and ruled that Title VII also did not protect Kengerski from discriminatory harassment based on his relationship with a person (his grand-niece) of another race.
Protection From Retaliation
On appeal, the Third Circuit reversed the trial court’s decision and reinstated Kengerski’s retaliation claim. The appellate court held that Title VII protects employees from retaliation when they complain about discriminatory harassment because of their association with a person of another race. Thus, unlike the reversed trial court which failed to account for Title VII precedent, the Third Circuit recognized that Title VII’s prohibition against discrimination against an employee because of the employee’s race encompasses discrimination based on an employee’s association with a person of another race. Because Title VII protects employees from discrimination based on their association with a person of another race, the court of appeals reasoned, Title VII also protects employees from retaliation when they complain about discriminatory harassment they experience because of their association with a person of another race. Consequently, the Third Circuit concluded that Kengerski was protected from retaliation under Title VII when he complained about the discriminatory harassment he experienced because of his interracial association with his grand-niece.
In reversing the trial court, the Third Circuit also explained that claims of interracial association discrimination are “not limited to close or substantial relationships,” such as family members. Instead, the appellate court determined that “while one might expect the degree of association to correlate with the likelihood of severe or pervasive discrimination on the basis of that association, the degree of association is irrelevant to whether an [employee] is eligible for protections of Title VII in the first place.” In applying this principle, the Third Circuit determined that “employees [ ] may not be discriminated against because of their interracial relationships with distant relatives, such as a grand-niece.”
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Citrus County, FL Employment Attorneys
Based in Ocala, Florida and representing workers throughout Central Florida, our Citrus County, Florida employment lawyers have litigated racial discrimination in Florida courts for more than twenty years. If you have experienced racial discrimination in the workplace or have questions about your protection from racial discrimination under federal employment discrimination law, please contact our office for a free consultation with our Inverness, Florida employment attorneys. 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.