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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 Discriminatory Customer Preferences Contribute To A Racial Hostile Environment?

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Having litigated employment discrimination lawsuits for almost two decades, our Alachua County, Florida race discrimination lawyers know that many employers still cater to the perceived discriminatory racial preferences of their customers. In doing so, employers foster and engender a racially-charged work environment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII). As observed by the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chaney v. Plainfield Healthcare Center, 612 F.3d 908 (7th Cir. 2016), “[i]t is now widely accepted that a company’s desire to cater to the perceived racial preferences of its customers is not a defense under Title VII for treating employees differently on the basis of race.” A racial harassment lawsuit recently filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) illustrates that an employer’s policy or practice of catering to the racial preferences of its customers can contribute to the creation of a racial hostile work environment.

Employees Claim Racial Harassment

The EEOC filed the racial harassment lawsuit, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Treatment Centers, LLC, Case No. 1:19-cv-00933, in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina after initially attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its statutorily mandated conciliation process. The EEOC brought the racial harassment lawsuit pursuant to Title VII on behalf of former employees of Treatment Centers, LLC (Treatment Centers), Allen Parson (Parson), Marquita Williams (Williams), and LaFonda Bruinton (Bruinton). The EEOC claims that Parson, Williams, and Bruinton, who are African-American, were subjected to racial harassment in violation of Title VII. Racial harassment is a form of race discrimination prohibited by Title VII.

Treatment Centers operates methadone clinics in North Carolina. Parson, Williams, and Bruinton were employed by Treatment Centers as substance abuse counselors. The EEOC alleges that Parson, Williams, and Bruinton were subjected to racially offensive conduct by white clients of Treatment Centers. The racial harassment towards Parson, Williams, and Bruinton included racial slurs and derogatory racial comments. The EEOC further alleges that Treatment Centers fostered a racially-charged work environment by maintaining a practice of making assignments of substance abuse counselors to clients to accommodate the clients’ racial preferences. More specifically, the EEOC claims that Treatment Centers granted white clients’ requests that they not be assigned African-American substance abuse counselors. The EEOC contends that Treatment Centers is liable for the racial hostile work environment because of its failure to take prompt and effective remedial action to prevent the racial harassment from continuing.

Perhaps recognizing that an employer’s alleged practice of catering to the racial preferences of its customers, if proven, can contribute to the creation of a racially hostile work environment, Treatment Centers entered into a Consent Decree with the EEOC on September 11, 2019 which resolved the racial harassment lawsuit. In the Consent Decree, Treatment Centers agreed to pay a total of $110,000 to resolve the racial harassment lawsuit. In the Consent Decree, Treatment Centers also agreed to develop and implement a policy prohibiting racial harassment in the workplace.

Racially Hostile Workplace Is Unlawful

The EEOC is the administrative agency of the United States responsible for interpreting and enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. In enforcing the federal civil rights laws, the EEOC is also authorized by federal law to bring lawsuits on behalf of victims of racial harassment. In a press release issued by the EEOC regarding the case, a Regional Attorney for the EEOC’s Charlotte District Office, Lynette A. Barnes, stated that “[e]mployers must take appropriate action to stop their employees, as well as third parties, from using racial slurs in the workplace.” “The EEOC takes a company’s failure to take appropriate action to stop racial slurs and racially offensive conduct very seriously,” Ms. Barnes added, “and will prosecute cases where this kind of abuse occurs.”

Consultation With Gainesville Discrimination Lawyers

Based in Ocala, Florida and representing employees throughout Central Florida, our Alachua County, Florida race discrimination attorneys have been fighting for the rights of employees required to work in a racially-charged work environment for nearly twenty years. If you have worked in a racially hostile workplace or have questions about an employer’s obligation to protect you from racial harassment at work, please contact our office for a free consultation with our Alachua County, Florida race discrimination lawyers. Our employment and labor law attorneys take 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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