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Employment Law Blog
James Tarquin, P.A
As part of our commitment to assist and educate employees in fighting back against the abusive employment practices of employers, we offer a broad range of information about employment law issues in our employment blog.

Can Accommodating A Customer’s Racial Preferences Create A Racial Hostile Work Environment?

Conceptual hand writing showing Stop Racism. Business photo showcasing end the antagonism directed against someone of a different race.

 Over the course of the past twenty years, our Citrus County race discrimination lawyers have fought for the rights of racial discrimination victims.  Having decades of experience handling racial discrimination cases, our Inverness, Florida race discrimination attorneys know that employers continue to accommodate the racial preferences of customers.  This type of discriminatory employment practice is most prevalent in the service industry where employers willingly accommodate the racial preferences of customers under the guise of business expediency.  Exploiting that power disparity that exists in almost all employer-employee relationships, employers compel employees to tolerate and accept the racial preferences of customers as a condition of their continued employment.

Under federal employment discrimination law, however, it is unlawful race discrimination for employers to accommodate the racial preferences of customers.  This means that employers are forbidden from making employment decisions based on the desire to accommodate the racial preferences or perceived racial preferences of customers.  For example, employers cannot refuse to hire or discharge African-American employees because customers prefer doing business with whites.  Nor can employers assign white employees or refuse to assign African-American employees to customers based on the customers’ racial preferences.  In this article, our Citrus County race discrimination lawyers explain how the decision in Europe v. Equinox Holdings, Inc.,  

Case No. 20-cv-7787 (S.D. N.Y. Sept. 8, 2022) shows that an employer’s decision to accommodate a customer’s racial preferences can contribute to the creation of a racial hostile work environment in violation of federal employment discrimination law.

Racial Harassment Lawsuit

In that case, a woman named Europe brought a race discrimination lawsuit against her former employer, Equinox Holdings, Inc. (Equinox), pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII). Under Title VII, employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees on the basis of race. Under long standing law, racial harassment is a form of racial discrimination forbidden 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 a hostile working environment. Europe, who is African-American, maintains that Equinox created and maintained a racial hostile work environment in violation of Title VII.

Equinox operates 37 fitness clubs. In December 2018, Europe began working as a Personal Training Manager at one of Equinox’s fitness clubs. In that role, Europe supervised fitness managers, including a man named Maltman. Europe claims that over the course of her employment, Maltman engaged in inappropriate conduct that made her uncomfortable. On one occasion, Maltman remarked to Europe that one African-American female member of the gym “was so hot” and commented on the size of her breasts. On another occasion, Maltman asked Europe to accompany him to a coffee shop during work hours so that he could ask out a young barista there, who is African-American. Europe contends that Maltman sought her presence as an African-American woman to legitimize Maltman in the barista’s eyes and make the barista more receptive to Maltman’s advances.

Racial Preferences Of Customer

In June 2019, a customer requested to be paired specifically with a white male trainer, and this request was forwarded to Europe. The next day, Europe lodged a complaint with a General Manager about the incident. Europe’s complaint expressed concern that, by accommodating the customer’s request, the company “would be more concerned with the dollars a member spends, than making sure that people of color can exist in a non-hostile work environment.” A few days later, Europe lodged another complaint with the same General Manager and Maltman, complaining that Equinox appeared to have acquiesced to the customer’s request.

In June 2019, Maltman sent a text message to a Regional Director, Caporusso, in which Maltman described Europe as “not very charming” and said that he hoped Caporusso would “appreciate the reference.” Caporusso testified at his deposition that the comment was likely in reference to a video Maltman had previously shown him that referred to a “charming Negress.”

Racial Hostile Work Environment

Equinox filed a motion with the trial court seeking dismissal of Europe’s racial hostile work environment claim. In support of its motion for dismissal, Equinox argued that the work conditions experienced by Europe were not so severe as to alter the conditions of Europe’s employment and create a racial hostile working environment. The trial court denied Equinox’s motion for dismissal and ruled that a reasonable jury could find that Europe worked in a racially hostile environment in violation of Title VII.

In support of its conclusion, the trial court pointed to evidence that “Equinox accommodated the racial preferences of a client.” “A reasonable jury could find,” the trial court reasoned, “that such pandering enshrined a system of racial division within the workplace and rendered that workplace substantially hostile for people of color.” The trail court also explained “there is evidence that Maltman often made discriminatory comments in [Europe’s] presence,” including “objectifying comments about the bodies of Black women.” The trial court further noted that Maltman “referred to non-white staff as lazy and untrustworthy, and said that he wanted to get them fired.”

Citrus County Race Discrimination Lawyers

Based in Ocala, Florida and representing workers throughout Florida, our race discrimination attorneys in Citrus County, Florida have dedicated their practice to fighting for the rights of employment discrimination victims. If you have experienced racial discrimination in the workplace or have questions about your rights as a racial discrimination victim, please contact our office for a free consultation with our race discrimination lawyers in Citrus County, Florida. Our employee rights law firm takes race 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.

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