EEOC Sues Construction Company for Race Bias at USC Site

Construction workers in building site

A construction company subjected Black and Latino workers to "an abusive and hostile work environment" while they were working on a project at the University of Southern California, according to a federal lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The EEOC filed the complaint on July 28 in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, alleging that the construction company discriminated based on workers' race and national origin in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (EEOC v. Hathaway Dinwiddie Construction Co., C.D. Cal., No. 2:20-cv-06741).

The EEOC alleged that the harassment included verbal remarks and racially offensive graffiti in the worksite's portable toilet facilities. The agency also claimed that workers were retaliated against when they complained.

The workers "were humiliated by the harassment and found that the harassment interfered with their daily work," according to the complaint. The EEOC also said the company knew or should have known that "derogatory graffiti was prevalent in the portable toilet facilities" because managers also used the facilities.

In addition to seeking compensation for the plaintiffs, the EEOC wants the defendants to "institute and carry out policies, practices and programs to ensure that they would not engage in further unlawful practices."

The employer did not immediately respond to SHRM Online's request for a comment.

To help employers navigate equal opportunity at work, we've rounded up recent articles from SHRM Online on preventing workplace bias.

Going Beyond Compliance to End Workplace Harassment

Complying with anti-discrimination and anti-harassment laws is a critical part of the job for managers and HR professionals. To create a positive workplace that is inclusive of all employees requires going beyond what is legally mandated. Leaders can help improve their organization's culture by stopping bullying and other unwelcome behavior before it turns into unlawful harassment.

(SHRM Online)

Do Your Employees Know Why You Believe in Racial Equity?

Ensuring people from underrepresented communities are recruited and advanced is beneficial for organizations and their employees. Diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) attempts to level the playing field to allow the best ideas to flourish, connect talented individuals from underrepresented backgrounds with opportunities that those in the majority often have unfair access to, and empower the best organizations to thrive. Done right, creating diverse, equitable, inclusive organizations yields greater profitabilityinnovation and smarter teams.

(Harvard Business Review/SHRM Online)

How to Be a Better Ally to Your Black Colleagues

Research has shown that Black employees who talk about race, advocate for other Black individuals or openly discuss discrimination and unfair treatment at work are penalized for doing so. Yet, when their voices are not suppressed, we learn that Black employees often feel that they have to work harder than their colleagues for the same rewards. Instead of dampening your Black colleagues' voices and experiences, look for opportunities to listen to and learn about their experiences at work. Participating in a company-sponsored town hall focused on race in the workplace is one good option. Attending your company's employee resource group meetings for Black employees is another.

(Harvard Business Review/SHRM Online)

[SHRM members-only how-to guide: How to Develop a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Initiative]

Addressing Racism Starts with Having Hard, Respectful Conversations

The conversations that organizations need to have with their employees must start by demonstrating empathy and respect in word and deed, said John Page, general counsel and chief diversity officer at Golden State Foods in Irvine, Calif., during a webinar that was co-sponsored by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and the Association of Corporate Counsel. The conversations, Page said, should convey "that we appreciate the pain folks are going through, the difficulty, the discomfort, and being honest and authentic about it." At the C-suite level, leaders should start with listening, learning and focusing on the problem, and understanding "there will be folks who are uncomfortable [having these conversations]" and who view these discussions—consciously or unconsciously—as a challenge to the status quo, he added. 

(SHRM Online)

Driving Open and Honest Dialogue

When driving open and honest dialogue, HR professionals and managers should emphasize that the purpose of getting together is discussion, not debate or disagreement. "Set up discussion rules," said Alexander Alonso, Ph.D., SHRM-SCP, SHRM's chief knowledge officer. "Articulate that the point of the conversation is to chart a course for future actions to eliminate racism from the workplace. Listen to people's varying perspectives and find ways to shape future actions."

(SHRM Online)

Visit SHRM's resource page on preventing harassment and bullying.


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