Some racial minorities are subjected to jokes by their coworkers about their minority statuses. While isolated jokes may not be enough to create a hostile work environment, frequent jokes may be enough to constitute unlawful harassment based on race. If you have been the target of racist jokes at your work, the attorneys at Swartz Swidler may be able to help you.
What is hostile work environment harassment?
Hostile work environment harassment occurs when people are subjected to ongoing comments and jokes by their coworkers based on their protected statuses when the treatment is pervasive enough to prevent the victims from being able to perform their job duties. It is a type of unlawful discrimination.
To constitute harassment, the conduct must be unwelcome and pervasive enough that it changes the conditions and terms of the victim’s job. Employers sometimes argue that the conduct wasn’t unwelcome because the victims were part of the groups that told the jokes. This makes it important for people who are offended by such jokes to tell the people who are telling the jokes to stop doing so. If the jokes continue, the victims should file written complaints with their human resources department or with the person who is in charge of handling harassment complaints. This can help the victims to prove that the conduct was unwelcome and that they were not willing participants.
The conduct must also be pervasive, which means that it should be severe and frequent. This is because a single inappropriate joke will not be enough to justify filing a lawsuit. The conduct must negatively impact the working environment of the victim to be illegal. Courts consider multiple factors when determining whether the conduct was pervasive and severe enough to qualify as illegal harassment, including the following:
- The conduct’s frequency
- The conduct’s severity
- Whether the conduct was humiliating or threatening
- Whether the conduct unreasonably interfered with the victim’s job
- The context
Serious conduct may qualify as illegal harassment even when it only occurs one time. For example, hanging a noose at the workplace or making physical threats of violence because of the victim’s race may be enough to qualify as illegal harassment. By contrast, jokes and objectionable comments may need to occur multiple times before they will be considered to be unlawful harassment.
If you are being subjected to jokes based on your race at your job, you need to take steps to get them to stop. You should start by telling your coworkers that you think that their jokes are offensive and are not funny. Ask them to stop. If they do not stop and continue to tell racist jokes, you should go to your human resources department and make a complaint about the continuing racist jokes and comments. Your company will then be legally required to investigate your complaint and to take remedial action to stop the conduct of your coworkers.
If the company fails to investigate your claim or to remedy it, you can file a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the corresponding agency in your state. Once the charge is filed, the EEOC or state agency will investigate it. The agency may decide to take the case on your behalf or send you a notice of your right to sue if it decides not to take your case. If you are given notice of your right to sue, you can then file a lawsuit against your employer in court.
Contact the employment lawyers at Swartz Swidler
If you believe that you are the victim of unlawful harassment based on your race, you should talk to the experienced employment lawyers at Swartz Swidler. Fill out our online contact form today to request a consultation.