Can Racially Discriminatory Discipline Create A Racially Hostile Work Environment?
Our Marion County, Florida employment lawyers have fought for the rights of racial discrimination victims for more than twenty years. Having decades of experience representing racial discrimination victims, our Ocala, Florida employment lawyers know that a common employment law myth is that a racially hostile work environment requires evidence of racially derogatory language. Employers vigorously promote this employment law myth when defending against racial hostile work environment cases by arguing that in the absence of racially derogatory language there is no racially hostile work environment as a matter of law. Because of this employment law myth, many employees required to work in a racially hostile work environment are unaware that their employee rights under federal employment discrimination law have been violated. In this article, our Marion County, Florida employment lawyers explain how the decision in Wilkins v. United Parcel Service, Inc. 2022 WL 597431 (S.D. N.Y. Feb. 15, 2022) illustrates that a racial hostile work environment claim does not require evidence of racially derogatory language.
Unlawful Racial Harassment
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of race. In construing Title VII’s prohibition against racial discrimination, courts have ruled that racial harassment is a form of race 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 work environment. Once an employer knows or should know of racial harassment in the workplace, the employer is obligated by Title VII to take prompt and effective corrective action to stop the harassment and prevent recurrence of the harassment. When an employer takes no corrective action, or the corrective action taken fails to stop the harassment, the employer is liable under Title VII for creating and maintaining a racially hostile work environment.
Racial Harassment Lawsuit
In Wilkins, a man named Wilkins brought a racial harassment claim against his employer, United Parcel Service, Inc. (UPS), pursuant to Title VII. Wilkins, who is African-American, claims that UPS violated Title VII by creating and maintaining a racially hostile work environment. More specifically, Wilkins claims that he was repeatedly subjected to disciplinary action because of his race which created a racially hostile work environment in violation of Title VII.
In 1998, Wilkins began working as a delivery driver for UPS. Wilkins worked out of UPS’s facility in New York. In September 2015 until May 2017, Wilkins was supervised by the business manager of the facility, a white man named Valent. Wilkins claims that Valent subjected him to a “flurry” of formal and informal disciplinary actions allegedly on the basis of his race. Over the course of the almost twenty months that Valent supervised Wilkins, Wilkins received at least sixteen notices of discharge or suspension, along with other types of informal discipline and scrutiny. Wilkins claims that the allegedly race-based disciplinary actions culminated in June 2016 when Valent allegedly fabricated a story of Wilkins threatening him with a knife.
During Valent’s tenure as business manager, Wilkins filed at least eight grievances through his union regarding the purportedly excessive discipline he was accruing. Six of the eight grievances referenced Valent by name and all of the grievances complained of some combination of “intimidation,” “harassment,” and “discrimination.”
Racial Language Not Necessary
UPS filed a motion with the trial court seeking dismissal of Wilkins’ racially hostile work environment claim. In moving for dismissal, UPS argued that Wilkins’ claim failed because there was no evidence that he was subjected to racist comments or other acts of racism. In other words, according to UPS, a racially hostile work environment claim must be premised on racially derogatory language. The trial court denied UPS’s motion for dismissal and ruled that Wilkins’ evidence was sufficient to establish that he worked in a racially hostile work environment in violation of Title VII to proceed to a jury trial.
In allowing Wilkins to bring his claim before a jury for resolution, the trial court observed that Wilkins’ claim lacks “any facially racist comments or other direct evidence of racism.” However, the trial court determined, Wilkins supplied “sufficient circumstantial evidence that Valent targeted [Wilkins] and other minority package drivers at UPS for discipline more frequently than he did similarly situated white drivers committing similar offenses.” The evidence of “a barrage of unfair discipline,” the trial court reasoned, was sufficient to establish that Wilkins was subjected to pervasive harassment because of his race.
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One of the most critical decisions employment discrimination victims must make is which employment attorneys to consult with regarding their employee rights under federal employment discrimination law. As part of our commitment to helping employment discrimination victims, an experienced employment lawyer 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 employment attorneys regarding your rights. We are available for consultation at your convenience, including scheduling telephone consultations for evenings and weekends.
Marion County, FL Employment Lawyers
Based in Ocala, Florida and representing workers throughout Florida, our employment attorneys in Marion County, Florida have dedicated their practice to fighting for the rights of employment discrimination victims. If you have experienced workplace discrimination or have questions about your employee rights under federal employment discrimination law, please contact our office for a free consultation with our employment lawyers in Marion County, Florida. Our employee rights law firm takes employment 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.