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Business Successfully Defends Against Race Discrimination Claim


In our last post we wrote about the importance of having and implementing a sexual harassment policy, in part because it may be used by an employer to defend against claims filed. Recently, an employer in another state used this defense against race discrimination and harassment claims that were leveled against it.

 The claim was filed by a man who, while working as a delivery driver, underwent on-the-job training from a fellow worker. When he failed to show up for work one day and was contacted by his supervisor, the employee said he had been harassed and discriminated against because of his race. Specifically, he said his trainer talked about the Ku Klux Klan and made comments related to race. He also said that because of his race he was not properly trained.

In response to that information, and in accordance with the trucking company’s harassment and discrimination policies laid out in the employee handbook, the supervisor conveyed the company’s policies regarding those issues. He also lined up another employee to finish the training. In addition, the supervisor spoke to the employee accused of the acts. In taking these actions the supervisor applied training he had received on the subject.
 
These actions were taken despite the employee’s failure to follow the instructions provided in the handbook regarding how to report discriminating or harassing behavior.

Though following those actions the employee said he did not experience any further discrimination or harassment based on his race, he nonetheless eventually resigned. As a reason, he said other employees avoided him which made him feel uncomfortable. After he resigned he filed the lawsuit alleging his former employer was vicariously liable under that state’s antidiscrimination law, because it allowed a hostile work environment.

After the trial court dismissed the claims the man filed an appeal and applying framework used in sexual harassment claims, the appeals court upheld the dismissal. In doing so, the court determined:

  • The business had created an antidiscrimination and antiharassment policy
  • The man’s supervisor received antidiscrimination training
  • Despite not receiving a formal complaint, the company investigated the matter
  • The employee was assigned a different trainer and did not experience any further issues

This case illustrates why it is so important for employers to have a harassment and discrimination policy in place. While this particular case played out in another state, it is conceivable that a similar outcome could happen in Maryland as well.