10 Examples of Racism in the Workplace

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Racism in the workplace is a very real thing, and with the impending Brexit looming over us, race hate incidents across the country have risen by up to 100 per cent. The number of racially motivated crimes (including assault, harassment, distress and other criminal damage) is expected to further rise now that Prime Minister Theresa May has triggered Article 50.

While the government has introduced legislation to protect people from being discriminated against because of their race (including colour, nationality and ethnic or national origin), and opinions regarding race have become more liberal since the 1990s, racism still exists, both in and outside the workplace.

Join us as we take a look at 10 notable examples of workplace racism around the world.

1. Charles L. Walker

In 1999, at the age of 58, Charles L. Walker was old enough to remember segregated bathrooms and white-only water fountains while growing up in his native West Virginia. However, he says that the racism he faced as a mechanic for American Airlines at Los Angeles International Airport is ‘the worst thing that ever happened to me’.

Mr Walker was greeted by a handwritten sign proclaiming ‘All Blacks Must Die’ when he entered the maintenance facility’s toilet in 1996, and later found his name scrawled on the wall of the same toilet next to a Nazi swastika and a depiction of himself with the words ‘N*gger, N*gger, N*gger’ written under his head. He also encountered a hangman’s noose.

He filed a formal complaint with the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing in 1997, but the perpetrator was never identified, and no one was disciplined. He later filed a lawsuit against the company, which was settled out of court in October 1999 for an undisclosed amount.


2. Harold H. Archuleta

Harold H. Archuleta, who is of mixed Mexican and Native American heritage, filed a lawsuit against American Airlines in January 2000 for wrongful termination due to complaining about aircraft safety violations and also supporting Charles L. Walker’s racial harassment and discrimination claims the previous year.

Like Mr Walker, Mr Archuleta was a mechanic for the company and claimed that, by the time he was fired in May 1998, he saw three nooses at the maintenance facility he worked at and that the company took no steps to prevent it from happening. He said that one was displayed in the area where the company gave out time cards, another in front of a production control office and a third was carried by Mr Walker who was on his way to complain about it to management. The case was apparently dismissed in 2005.


3. Wayne A. Elliott

Wayne A. Elliott’s story is similar to Mr Walker’s. A Lockheed Martin employee, Mr Elliott was transferred from a factory job to a warehouse in Marietta, Georgia when his white colleagues began taunting him, firstly with anti-black graffiti on restroom walls. He and two other black employees formed a small group called Workers Against Discrimination in 1997, but things got worse soon after.

All three men found ‘back-to-Africa tickets’ on their desks, and when security officials arrived to investigate, the victims were taken away for questioning as if they were the wrongdoers.

According to Mr Elliott, a noose appeared near his desk in 1999 with a white colleague threatening: ‘You’re going to end up with your head in here’. ‘They hassle me all the time now, unplugging my computer so I lose work, hiding my bike or chair; it’s constant,’ Elliott is quoted as saying back in 2001.

Two class actions were filed against the company but it is unclear what came of them.


4. Elijah Turley

In 2012, Elijah Turley, an African American processor operator at ArcelorMittal’s Buffalo, New York steel plant, was awarded $25 million (£20 million, 2017 rates) after a series of hate incidents between 2005 and 2008 which left him a physical and emotional wreck.

Mr Turley testified he found a stuffed monkey with a noose around its neck hanging from his car’s side mirror and that ‘KKK’ was written on the walls of the plant, which was closed in 2009.

The jury’s unanimous decision came after a three-week trial in which Mr Turley painfully recalled the taunts he experienced, and the company was found liable for allowing a ‘hostile work environment’ even though they claimed to have taken steps to halt the harassment.


5. Gloria Hamilton

Gloria Hamilton is another victim of workplace racism and taunts with nooses. It began in 1992 when friends at the Detroit cargo facility where she worked as a service manager for Northwest Airlines found and removed a double-looped noose hanging on her door before she came to work that day.

Five years later, in 1997, she who found the knotted noose in the employee lunchroom. She took a photograph of it, took it down and then complained to a higher manager.

In a lawsuit against the company, Northwest Airlines argue that Ms Hamilton had simply found a piece of rope and that there was no evidence that it was directed against her or anyone else. They also claimed that they learned of the incident only after Ms Hamilton had been denied a promotion and after making a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission about racial and sexual harassment at the company.


6. Joseph Banks

Another employee at Lockheed Martin, Joseph Banks was one of seven former and then-current employees of the company to file a lawsuit in May 2000 for being excluded from the promotion process. They also claimed that the company failed to thoroughly investigate a series of racial harassment incidents.

Mr Banks claimed that a noose was placed in his work area and complained about it to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The same day he made his complaint, another Lockheed Martin employee, a Mr Ted Gignilliat, also filed a complaint that he received threats after seeing a noose.


7. Marcel Espiritu

Filipino American employee Marcel Espiritu filed a lawsuit in January 1999 against Northwest Airlines for being subjected to five years of hateful comments from supervisors and colleagues about his ethnicity and accent. When he filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 1996, he found a noose in his locker at the San Francisco International Airport.

During the lawsuit, the court heard that Northwest had disciplined some employees for using unacceptable language to Mr Espiritu and were required to undergo counselling and training. Northwest denied any wrongdoing and settled out of court ‘to avoid expensive and protracted litigation’.


8. Josephine Harper

Josephine Harper had been working as a care worker at Housing 21, a retirement housing business, for some time when she learned she would have a new line manager, Nicola James, in 2011. It soon became apparent that there was a personality clash, with Ms Harper going on to complain that Ms James examined her work more rigorously than others and that her hours were reduced without explanation.

Ms Harper, who is Irish, also claimed that she fell victim to Ms James taunts of having a ‘funny accent’, being described as an ‘Irish gypsy’ and being compared to the women on the reality TV show My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding.

Ms Harper went on sick leave and raised a grievance about the comments about her nationality, which were corroborated by other employees and which Ms James said were ‘just banter’. Ms Harper eventually resigned before the hearing as her position has become ‘completely untenable’. Housing 21 settled out of court in regards to Ms Harper’s claims for direct racial discrimination, race-related harassment and constructive dismissal.


9. D Brown

A London black pub worker, identified only as D Brown, was awarded £1,200 ‘in compensation for injury to feelings for race harassment’ after an employment tribunal found that his manager, a Mr Gavriloae, told him he ‘look[ed] like a pimp’ for wearing a St Patrick’s Day promotional hat. The tribunal also heard that Mr Gavriloae also said, ‘You should have prostitutes hanging off your arm’.


10. Matheson Trucking Employees

Seven warehouse workers were awarded $15 million (£11.94 million) in 2015 after employees were segregated by race and were called ‘lazy, stupid Africans’ by bosses and fellow employees.

The seven workers (six of which are black and one is white who was fired for challenging racist practices in the workplace) filed the lawsuit in 2010. The verdict against Matheson Trucking and Matheson Flight Extenders Inc. included $14 million (£11.14 million) in punitive damages, $318,000 (£253,000) of back pay and $650,000 (£517,000) for emotional distress. The company was also expected to pay the plaintiffs’ legal costs.


Can you think of any other notable workplace racism cases that are worth mentioning? Have you been a victim of or witnessed a race hate incident in or outside the workplace? Join the conversation below and let us know.

This article was originally published in February 2015