EEOC: Employer’s Delay in Halting Workers’ Wearing of Confederate Flag T-Shirts May Have Created Discriminatory, Hostile Workplace

In a decision recently released by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), the EEOC concluded that an African-American employee of the U.S. Postal Service adequately alleged that he was subjected to a racially discriminatory hostile work environment because his employer delayed taking action for two months against the practice by some of the complainant’s co-workers of wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the Confederate flag. Dawson v. Donahoe, Appeal No. 0120114186 (EEOC Feb. 12, 2012). In March 2011, the complainant notified the local postmaster of his co-workers’ practice and informed him “that he was offended by the t-shirts because he saw the Confederate flag as a symbol of racism that evoked the history of slavery.” However, it was not until May 2011 that the postmaster instructed the supervisor to start sending the employees home to change clothes.

The Commission concluded that the complainant had stated a viable claim of discriminatory harassment which required further investigation. The EEOC reasoned that,

While isolated incidents may not create a direct and personal deprivation sufficient to render an individual aggrieved, the Commission has held that, under certain circumstances, a limited number of highly offensive slurs related to a federal employee’s race may in fact state a claim or support a finding of discrimination under Title VII. See Brooks v. Department of the Navy, EEOC Request No. 05950484 (June 25, 1996).  Moreover, Complainant has alleged that it took the Postmaster nearly two months to finally take action to stop his coworkers from wearing the offensive t-shirts.

 

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