Tell Employees: Bystanders Can Sue Over Racist Quips

Tell Employees: Bystanders Can Sue Over Racist Quips Fotolia

If a supervisor makes racist comments to or about an African-American employee, that person may indeed have a good racial harassment claim should he or she decide to file suit. But, as attorney Sindy Warren explains on Warren & Associates’ Our Blog, those who hear the remarks and find them offensive could also have a case.

She says that’s what happened in Bennett v. Riceland Foods, which the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided last summer. Warren says two Caucasian employees complained about a supervisor’s racist comments about another worker and were subsequently terminated. They then sued, alleging retaliation for filing grievances against their supervisor.

Warren says the employer argued that white employees are not entitled to collect damages for reporting racial slurs directed at others, but the court disagreed. In fact, she says it is well-established that bystanders or anyone affected by allegedly harassing behavior can have a valid harassment claim, even if the conduct is not directed at them.

She says the concept is not necessarily well-known, so advise employers to ensure this point is included in antiharassment training.

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