If several white employees at a shipyard in Mobile, Ala., went around displaying Confederate flags and nooses, making racial slurs and putting up nasty graffiti and epithets, one might assume it would be easy to prove a racially hostile work environment.
But as Eric B. Meyer explains on The Employer Handbook, that wasn’t the case for all of those making the allegations.
While there is no question that nooses, n-words, graffiti and Confederate flags are symbols of racial hate and violence, Meyer says it wasn’t enough to convince the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit to reinstate several of the race-discrimination claims that the lower court dismissed. He says the suits were dismissed because many of the plaintiffs lacked firsthand knowledge of the discrimination.
Meyer says as the Eleventh Circuit reasoned in Adams v. Austal, “an employee alleging a hostile work environment cannot complain about conduct of which he was oblivious for the purpose of proving that his work environment was objectively hostile.”
In other words, he says the plaintiffs needed to be personally exposed to the acts of discrimination. While some of the employees were able to prove they were, he says, the ones who relied on “me too” evidence about those incidents had their cases dismissed.