Failure To Act On Complaints Of Racial And Sexual Harassment May Lead To Substantial Liability

Unfortunately, racism is still alive and well in our society. The news regularly reports stories of nooses on factory floors and crude racist jokes being circulated through company email systems. Fortunately, Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating against their employees “because of” their race or color. That means that employers may not take your race or color, or your perceived race or color, into consideration in making employment decisions.

Recently, Alabama State University has been in the news for its offensive and racially charged conduct toward three black former administrative employees. The 11th Circuit, which included Georgia, Florida and Alabama has just ruled that the University must pay a total of $1,078,611 to the women because of racial and sexual harassment, as well as retaliation. If you believe that you have been subjected to any form of discrimination at work, it’s a good idea to consult with a dedicated Atlanta discrimination attorney right away.

In Weatherly v. Ala. State Univ., 11th Cir., No. 12-13414, 9/3/13), three women were routinely subjected to harassing behavior including the use of the “n word” and other racial slurs while working in the university’s Office of the Special Assistant to the President.

Further, after the women complained to human resources, they experienced retaliation.

A jury determined Dr. John Knight, who held various high-level administrative positions at ASU and is a member of the state legislature, as well as a subordinate LaVonette Bartley, were found to have sexually harassed the women, and that Bartley subjected the women to racial harassment. According to reports, Bartley allegedly referred to one of the women’s breasts as “melons” and her buttocks as “hams,” and Knight told her she was pretty and “he liked his coffee sweet like [her] and the color of [her] complexion.

Other allegations included the following:

• That Bartley repeatedly used “n word” in the workplace, sometimes directing her language at them specifically.

For example:

One of the women heard Bartley refer to the university’s mass transportation system as the “n* bus line.” Another heard Bartley say, “talk to the n* side of the hand because the white side does not want to hear it.”

• Bartley called the woman’s seven-year old son a “n*,” which caused the boy to crawl under her desk and curl up in a fetal position.

Bartley also allegedly made sexual remarks to and unwanted physical contact with the women, including putting her breasts on one of them. Knight also allegedly sexually harassed one woman. Among other things, Knight commented on her appearance, asked her to dance for him and made other awkward requests of her. She further alleged that he called her on her birthday and told her to think of and to tell him about a “special thing” she wanted for her birthday.

The offensive conduct took place for several years but despite complaints to human resources, the university failed to act.

Based on the above conduct, the court upheld the jury award. For more information about sexual or racial discrimination, please contact the dedicated Atlanta anti-discrimination attorneys at Buckley Bala Wilson Mew LLP for an immediate case evaluation.