Articles Posted in Race (Title VII)

Litigating against the the EEOC is difficult for several reasons. For one, unlike a lawsuit brought by an individual plaintiff, a suit brought by the EEOC has the resources of the entire federal government behind it. Perhaps because of the agency’s bureaucratic structure, negotiating with EEOC counsel can be difficult during litigation, at times resulting in a total breakdown of communication. A recent decision by a federal court in Illinois illustrates what happens when the lawyers in an employment-discrimination lawsuit take the driver’s seat to the exclusion of the individuals at the heart of the case.

EEOC v. DHL Express (USA), Inc., was brought by the EEOC on behalf of 94 claimants, alleging that DHL discriminated against its African-American driver/dockworkers based on their race by giving them less desirable, more difficult, and more dangerous route and dock assignments than their Caucasian counterparts and by assigning African-American drivers to routes in predominately African-American areas.

DHL brought a motion to compel the EEOC to produce all of the claimants for deposition after the EEOC provided interrogatory responses that included an unsworn “vignette” for each claimant with the claimants’ general allegations of discrimination. DHL argued that individual depositions were required because the vignettes were vague, filled with generalities, and, in several instances, inaccurate. DHL also argued that, because there is no standard as to what constitutes a “more dangerous assignment” and no objective criteria for what constitutes “less desirable,” each claimant’s individual testimony was necessary to establish its defense.

The court was not impressed by the “vignettes,” finding that they failed to give any meaningful detail or specifics about the alleged discriminatory treatment. Instead, the court concluded that the additional 60 depositions (DHL had deposed 34 of the 94 claimants already), were necessary not to evaluate both potential liability and damages.

The lesson to be learned from this decision, in my opinion, relates mostly to litigation strategy. By submitting these “vignettes” in response to the defendant-employer’s interrogatories, the EEOC seems to have forgotten about the individual employees whose claims were the basis for the lawsuit. Had the EEOC actually provided the sworn responses of the employees instead, the need for the employer to expend its resources to take an additional 60 depositions would not have been necessary. Or, perhaps, the EEOC should have formulated a clearer understanding of its allegations before filing its Complaint. Ah, a lawyer can dream, can’t she?

EEOC v. DHL Express (USA), Inc., No. 10 C 6139 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 31, 2012).

Workplace anti-harassment training can be summarized with the title of this post. The fact that an employee laughs at an inappropriate joke is not a legal defense to a later claim at harassment. Nor is an employee’s failure to object to inappropriate workplace conduct. One employer recently learned this lesson the hard way.

In the case of EEOC v. Holmes & Holmes Industrial, Inc., the EEOC filed suit against a construction company on behalf of several Black employees, alleging hostile work environment claims. To succeed in a case alleging discrimination based on a hostile work environment, a plaintiff must prove that he or she was subject to (1) intentional discrimination, that was (2) severe or pervasive (3) and subjectively offensive to the plaintiff, and (4) that would be objectively offensive to a reasonable person in the plaintiff’s position.

In support of its claims against Holmes & Holmes, EEOC asserts that the employee-claimants faced frequent, racially-charged comments from their managers and co-workers. EEOC also contended that supervisors frequently told racial jokes. In response, the employer argued that the employees engaged in similar conduct, frequently using racial slurs and terms.

Following the conclusion of discovery, the EEOC moved for summary judgment–and won! The Court granted partial summary judgment, concluding that the EEOC had proved elements one, two, and four of its claims. The Court’s decision noted that the EEOC had brought the “rare case where there is no dispute as to the pervasiveness of the conduct in question. No reasonable jury could find that a reasonable African-American would not be offended by this conduct.”

The Court rejected the employer’s argument that the employees’ participation in the misconduct indicated that it wasn’t offensive. Instead, the Court left for the jury the question of whether the employees were willing participants in the harassment.
The employer now finds itself in the unenviable position of going to trial in a case with very bad facts.

The lesson to be learned may be easier said than done but absolutely essential in preventing litigation and limiting liability–inappropriate or off-color jokes do not belong in the workplace, regardless of who you seems to find them funny. Really, there’s absolutely nothing funny about being suied for unlawful employment discrimination.

In Meditz v. City of Newark (PDF), the Third Circuit concluded that the City of Newark, New Jersey’s residency requirement may have unlawful disparate impact on non-Hispanic white applicants.  The case was brought Gregory Meditz, an attorney acting pro se.  Meditz alleged that the City’s residency requirement disparately impacted white, non-Hispanics and, as a result, white, non-Hispanics were under-represented in the City’s workforce.


Meditz, a white male, applied for a job as an Analyst with the City of Newark, New Jersey.  He was rejected for the job because he lived in Rutherford, New Jersey and a City ordinance required that non-uniformed employees live within City limits.  Meditz filed suit, alleging that the City’s residency requirement negatively impacted the hiring of white, non-Hispanics.

In support of his suit, Meditz provided statistical information that he’d gathered from publicly available sources.  Newark argued that the disparity reflected by the statistics were not sufficiently substantial.  The federal district court agreed with the City and found that the statistical evidence Meditz presented did not “constitute sufficient evidence of a significantly discriminatory hiring pattern.”  The Third Circuit Court of Appeals did not agree and reversed.

The Third Circuit found, instead, that the statistics showed that the percentage of white, non-Hispanics in Newark’s non-uniformed workforce was lower than the percentage that would be expected based on Newark’s general population.  The case was remanded for the District Court to analyze the evidence in accordance with the correct standard, as described in the Third Circuit’s decision.

Meditz v. City of Newark, No. 10-2442 (3d Cir. Sept. 28, 2011) (PDF).


For more on disparate impact, see also:

9th Cir. on ADA and Drug Addiction

Overview of the Risks of Employment Testing

The Link Between Race and Obesity-Disparate Impact Waiting to Happen?

EEOC’s Proposed Regs for Age Discrimination Disparate-Impact Claims

Music may be an art form to some.  But some music may be a form of harassment.  The EEOC has reach an agreement with Novellus Systems wherein the San-Jose based employer will pay $168,000 to a former employee for race-based harassment.  The claim alleges that the employee was terminated after he complained about racially offensive music played by a co-worker.

Gangsta' Rap Coloring Book

Michael Cooke worked at Novellus Systems for more than ten years. Cooke, an assembly technician, claimed that he was terminated after he complained about racially offensive music played at work by a co-worker.  The suit alleged that a 27-year-old co-worker would play rap music and rap along, using lyrics that included derogatory racial slurs, including the “N-word.”

Cooke complained to the co-worker, a Vietnamese-American, and to his supervisors about the language in the songs.  But the co-worker continued to sing along using racial slurs within hearing distance of Cooke.  After a year and a half of the co-worker singing and Cooke complaining, the suit alleges, Cooke was dismissed in retaliation for his complaints.

A lesson for employers:  As part of the settlement agreement, the company has agreed to modify its anti-harassment policy to exclude playing racially derogatory music in the workplace. 

Does your anti-harassment policy include this type of prohibition?  Are your employees permitted to play music at their work stations?  If the answer is “yes,” maybe you should consider a policy review to make sure you’re covered.

P.S.  The Gangsta Rap Coloring Book pictured above is, indeed, a real coloring book, available for sale at for $8.95.

Good documentation practices during the hiring process can help employers avoid a failure-to-hire claim.  And that’s a good thing, considering that failure-to-hire claims are costly. Just ask Perdue.  The poultry company has agreed to a pay out of more than $800k to settle a claim of disparate impact arising from what the DOL concluded to be systematic discrimination against non-Hispanic job applicants. 


Disparate Impact Claim

A Labor Department news release states an evaluation in 2005 and 2006 by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) found the Salisbury-based company failed to comply with federal employment laws at its poultry processing plants in Rockingham, N.C., Dillon, S.C., and Monterey, Tenn. (The OFCCP has jurisdiction because Perdue supplies poultry under a federal contract to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.)

The settlement agreement will require Perdue to pay $800,000 in back wages and interest to 750 women and minorities who were not hired during the relevant time period.  The company also will make employment offers to some of those who were not hired but who are still interested in employment with Perdue.  In those cases, the employees will receive retroactive company service dates for purposes of benefits and promotion rights. 


Documentation Regrets

Perdue officials denied the allegations on the basis that many applicants were unqualified for employment or withdrew from consideration for employment.  They stated that the company agreed to a settlement only to avoid protracted litigation, according to the company. The VP of HR said in a company statement:

Perdue is committed to treating all job applicants fairly. We regret we did not more carefully document our hiring process for production associates, which led to these concerns by the OFCCP and, ultimately, to this settlement.

Perdue has implemented new procedures to ensure it retains all relevant documentation of its selection processes and is also conducting training of its human resources staff to assure appropriate implementation of Perdue’s hiring and employment practices, according to the company statement.

Interviewing Best Practices

Interviewing is one of the most neglected areas in employment law.  When I teach seminars on lawful interviewing, I will inevitably see faces filled with shock and despair as they realize just how many of the best practices have not been implemented in their organization. 

Documentation is key in hiring.  If you keep notes and records only on the people you hired, you will have nothing to refer to in a failure-to-hire claim.  And let’s be honest, the ones you didn’t hire are likely the ones who were the least memorable.  Can you remember candidates you interviewed and rejected in 2005 and 2006? 

Without an established and consistent documentation and record-retention policy for the hiring policy, a failure-to-hire claim can be nearly impossible to defend.  Just ask Perdue.


Source:  Delaware News Journal, Gwenn Garland

NASCAR has been sued for race discrimination, gender discrimination, and sexual harassment.  The plaintiff, a black female former official, seeks $225 million in damages.

NASCAR Discrimination Suit

The plaintiff, Mauricia Grant, worked as a technical inspector in NASCAR’s second-tier Nationwide Series until she was fired in October 2007. She’d been with the organization since 2005, when she alleges the harassment and discrimination began. 

Her complaint, filed in federal court in New York, lists 23 specific instances of alleged sexual harassment and 34 specific instances of alleged gender and racial discrimination.

Despite an increasingly female fan base, NASCAR has long been a “man’s sport” with women’s involvement traditionally limited. 

Grant claims that she was harassed based on her race and her gender, as well as subject to a sexually hostile work environment.  In support of her racial discrimination claim, she alleges that she was referred to as “Nappy Headed Mo” and “Queen Sheba” and was told that she worked on “colored people time. 

One official, Grant alleges, routinely made references to the KKK.  And, while riding with coworkers at Talladega Speedway, she was told to duck as they passed by race fans because, one said, “I don’t want to start a riot when these fans see a black woman in my car.”

As for the sexual harassment, she says that she was accused of being gay when she ignored advances of co-workers.  She also claims that those same co-workers exposed themselves to her and made graphic and lewd jokes.

Grant also alleges that she routinely complained about the conduct to multiple supervisors, who responded that she should just “deal with it,” and dismissed the conduct as attributable to “former military guys” with a rough sense of humor.

Source:   ESPN: Ex-NASCAR worker alleges racial discrimination in lawsuit

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) can add another major victory to the scorebooks.   Earlier this week, the Commission settled a discrimination lawsuit for $2.2 million.  The actions at issue are said to trace back to a supervisor who is no longer with the restaurant.  This should be a wake-up call for employers who don’t provide employment-law training to supervisors, helping to prevent and eliminate discrimination and harassment in the workplace. 

tavern on the green

Tavern on the Green

The hottest headline for EEOC settlements right now is the agreement reached with the legendary N.Y.C. landmark restaurant, Tavern on the Green. Earlier this week, the New York Times reported that the restaurant, located in Central Park, had agreed to pay $2.2 million to settle a sexual-harassment claim filed by the EEOC last September.

Tavern on the Green is a destination for many Big Apple visitors with discriminating tastes, as well as a regular dinner spot for the who’s who of New York’s social scene.  The restaurant opened in 1934 and, in the 50+ years since, has become the “highest-grossing independently owned restaurant in the United States with annual revenues in excess of $34 million and over half a million visitors a year.”

The Allegations Were Many

The suit alleged a whole host of claims including discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.  The alleged harassment was said to include groping female staff members, the regular use of graphic sexual comments, and demands for sexual favors.

The discrimination allegations involved Hispanic employees, who were allegedly ridiculed and name-calling.  Black employees were alleged to have received similarly hostile treatment. 

As could be expected, the iconic restaurant denied any wrongdoing as part of the settlement. Representatives also claimed that the target of the suit, the managers accused of engaging in severe and pervasive harassment, separated from the restaurant several years ago.

The conduct is said to have stemmed primarily from one long-time manager who has since left the restaurant’s employment. 

Take Away

What can employers learn from this case?

Well, for one, even the giant can fall.  The Tavern is legendary–a Goliath in a city of Goliaths.  After nearly 75 very successful years in operation, even the Tavern was not immune from the EEOC’s watchful eyes. 

But there’s another lesson to be learned here.  The idea that just one supervisor, if left unchecked, can cost your business a lot–a lot of money, a lot of time, and a lot of bad publicity.  Had this supervisor been trained in employment laws, would he have chosen not to engage in such conduct?  Likely not.  But perhaps others would have recognized the serious repercussions of his conduct and put a stop to it before it turned into major liability.

This case is a very good advertisement for harassment and discrimination training for managers.  By setting ground rules for managers to enforce and to follow, employers can take action in preventing this type of detrimental lawsuit.

N.Y. Times: Tavern on the Green to Pay $2.2 Million to Settle Harassment Claim

The Department of Justice has been sued by an employee who alleges racial discrimination and sexual and race-based harassment. 


A 13-year veteran paralegal in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) has filed suit claiming she was discriminated against and harassed by managers who repeatedly passed her over for advancement because she is African-American. Joi Hyatte alleges that the DOJ “actively” sought only white and Hispanic candidates for higher-paying analyst positions.

The complaint also says that the section chiefs failed to rein in or discipline three white male lawyers who “behaved in a racially and sexually offensive manner” toward two female analysts — one white, the other black. 

The attorneys mocked the Caucasian analyst for displaying pictures of prominent African-American civil rights activists and leaders on the walls of her office. They also commented that she had a ‘tight ass’ and referred to both women as ‘lesbians’ and ‘carpet munchers.’

David Vladeck, a professor at Georgetown University’s law school, is representing Hyatte.  He says at least six other African-Americans in the voting section have complained of similar treatment, filing internal complaints with the DOJ’s EEO Office.

Hyatte does not seek the normal damages.  She wants to be promoted to analyst and seeks back pay for the period that she had been performing analyst work without receiving the title or the pay that goes with it. has complete coverage of this developing story, Civil Rights Division Employee Sues DOJ, Alleges Discrimination.

It’s not very common, but it does occasionally happen that a government agency is charged with committing the very same offenses that it is charged with eradicating.  See my earlier post, Some Might Consider It Ironic:  EEOC Charged With Violating the Overtime Exemption of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The United States Supreme Court is anything but anti-employee.  The Supreme Court’s decisions in Cracker Barrel and Gomez-Perez, filed yesterday, continue to broaden the limits of Section 1981 in favor of employees.

Recently, employee-advocate groups have made great sport out of attacking the Supreme Court’s employment-discrimination decisions–using them to raise the hue and cry for legislative reform. This week’s rulings in CBOCS West, Inc v. Humphries (the “Cracker Barrel” case), and Gomez-Perez v. Potter show that employee advocates and plaintiffs’ lawyers have little to complain about.

The Background of Section 1981U.S.S.C. Building

The Court’s 7-to-2 ruling in the Cracker Barrel case addressed a novel question of law: Whether there can be a claim of unlawful retaliation based on Section 1981. Section 1983, originally known as the Ku Klux Klan Act, was passed in 1871 during Reconstruction following the civil war.  The law was intended to provide a federal remedy for private conspiracies such as those being committed by the KKK, which the Southern state courts had been unsuccessful in prosecuting. In short, the law prohibits discrimination based on race in all aspects of contractual relationships, including written and unwritten employment contracts.

But Section 1981 contains no anti-retaliation language at all. What’s more, when Congress amended the law in 1991, it did not add an anti-retaliation provision.  By that time, many other anti-discrimination statutes had been enacted to explicitly included anti-relation provisions. Nevertheless, in yesterday’s Supreme Court opinion by Justice Breyer, the Court concluded that retaliation claims may brought under the statute and are “well embedded in the law.”

The Significance of the Cracker Barrel Decision

The ruling is significant in at least two ways. First, unlike the perhaps more familiar racial discrimination claim under Title VII, damage awards under Section 1981 do not include monetary caps. Employers are therefore exposed to substantially higher damage claims.

Second, Section 1981 claims do not require an administrative filing with the EEOC. The statute of limitations for such claims is much longer for these claims as compared to Title VII.  The statute of limitations in a Section 1981 claim is borrowed from state law.  The limitations period from the analogous intentional tort claim is applied unless the limitations periods vary for different intentional torts.  In that case, the state’s general personal injury statute of limitations should apply.

For Delaware employers, that means that, whereas a Title VII employee-plaintiff has 300 days to file a Charge of Discrimination, a Section 1981 plaintiff has more than twice as long, four years, to file a complaint in federal court. Further, since no administrative filing requirement exists under Section 1981, the employer may be unaware of a potential claim for a lengthy period of time.

The Significance of the Gomez Ruling

The Gomez decision is less significant in that it only applies to federal employees. In Gomez, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 6 to 3 ruling, found that a cause of action for retaliation existed for claims brought pursuant to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”). The ADEA has an explicit anti-retaliation provision applicable to private sector employees but no anti-retaliation provision applicable to federal workers. The High Court, nevertheless, concluded that Congress “intended” that retaliation be considered another form of “intentional discrimination” under the law.

Cracker Barrel and Gomez continue the Supreme Court trend that began with the Burlington and Faragher decisions, issued in 1998.  Since those rulings, the Court has taken an expansive view of anti-retaliation claims.  It will be interesting to see whether pro-employee groups and Plaintiffs’ lawyers will be satisfied by these decisions in light of the decidedly expansive view of employee-retaliation rights that the Court has adopted.


Additional Resources:

The Legal Information Institute (LII) at Cornell has an excellent summary of the Cracker Barrel decision, as well as links to the actual decision and the numerous briefs.  The Gomez decision is also posted at the LII website.

HR Hero is an excellent resource for more information on the broader topics that were addressed in these cases, including Section 1981, Employment Retaliation, and Age Discrimination in Employment (ADEA).


[Update May 29, 2008:  SCOTUS Blog also has an in-depth analysis of both cases from the plaintiff-employee perspective.]

Racial discrimination comes in many forms and, following a recent opinion from the Second Circuit, discrimination due to an employee’s interracial relationship is one of them.


Employment discrimination laws prohibit employers from making decisions based on race, gender, religion, disability, and certain other characteristics.  Since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, these laws have addressed discrimination based on the characteristic of the employee.  But lately there has been an increase in cases of “associational discrimination.” 

Associational Discrimination 101

In this new genre of discrimination law, the focus is not on the characteristic of the employee, but on a person or persons with whom the employee associates.  In other words, let’s say that your parents were Jewish and all of their friends were Jewish but you had converted to were Christianity in college. 

And let’s say that your employer fired you–not because he thought you were Jewish, but because of your association with your Jewish friends and family.  That is an example of associational discrimination.  The discrimination stemmed not from your religion but from the religion of the people with whom you associate. 

A recent case from the Second Circuit–the first of its kind–held that associational violation occurs when an employee is fired for his interracial marriage.

Holcomb v. Iona College (2nd Cir.)

Facts of the Case

The case is Holcomb v. Iona College, decided on April 1.  Holcomb was a basketball coach at Iona College in New York. He claimed that a college official, Brennan, tried to prevent Holcom’s wife, who was Black, from attending public alumni functions , and that Brennan had made racially derogatory comments about some of the Black players. 

Another college official, Petriccone, also made offensive racial comments about Black players in the basketball program.  As the Second Circuit put it, “Colleagues at Iona testified to Petriccione’s record of what might, charitably, be called racial insensitivity. Egregiously in this respect, Petriccione is said to have referred to a Nigerian employee at the Alumni Giving Office as a ‘jungle bunny’ and an ‘African princess.’  When that member of staff applied to his office for the position of Assistant Director of Annual Giving, he remarked:  ‘[W]hat does she think she is coming from a hut in Africa and thinking she could apply for this job?’”

In addition, when Petriccione found out that Holcomb was marrying an African-American woman, he allegedly made a comment so offensive comments that it won’t be posted here. 

Iona College eventually fired Holcomb, explaining that his termination had to do with his poor job performance. After the district court granted summary judgment to the college,the Second Circuit remanded on appeal.

The Court’s Decision

The court’s discussion set forth the associational-discrimination analysis. Here is the play-by-play:

  1. Protected Class. The Court held that Holcomb was a member of a “protected class” under Title VII.  Although Holcomb was not Black, his wife was, and there was evidence that his interracial marriage was the reason for his termination. 
  2. Interracial Association.  The Court reasoned that, “where an employee is subjected to an adverse action because an employer disapproves of interracial association, the employee suffers discrimination because of the employee’s own race.” All the district judges in this circuit to consider the question, including the district court in this case, have reached that conclusion.”
  3.  Pretext Evidence.  As noted above, there was plenty of evidence from which the Court could conclude that the reasons given for Holcomb’s termination were a mere pretext for race-based discrimination.  Another piece of evidence to support Holcomb’s claim was that O’Driscoll, the white staff member who replaced Holcomb, was the only white member of the staff without a Black girlfriend or wife. 


This decision from the Second Circuit does not necessarily address a novel issue of law.  Associational discrimination had previously been addressed by district courts within the Circuit.  But the clarity of the Court’s opinion in Holcomb very clearly sets the groundwork for similar future claims.

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