8 Shocking Examples of Racism in the Workplace

Two business people gossiping about their coworker

Unfortunately, in 2019, racism in the workplace is still a very real thing. Whether it is hiring managers or promotion boards subconsciously overlooking black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) candidates, or the occurrence of overt instances of discrimination and harassment on the office floor, it’s undeniable that there is still a lot of work to be done on this front.

While nearly all companies have legally binding antidiscrimination policies set up, and governments have issued directives and legislation to try and eradicate this issue, it’s still worth taking the time to highlight the cases where things have gone – or are going – terribly wrong.

With that in mind, here are eight examples of workplace racism around the world.

1. Ron Law (Austal)

A 43-year-old shipyard worker, Ron Law was one of 18 victims of a prolonged and sinister discrimination campaign at the Austal shipbuilding yard in Mobile, Alabama. As well as individual threats, Law and other African American workers experienced racial slurs, Ku Klux Klan references and – most chillingly of all – eight nooses hanging from the ceiling of the company’s break room.

Despite registering claims of discrimination with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) as far back as 2006, Law’s claims were never seriously investigated, and the case went nowhere – a seemingly alarming trend at the body, according to former EEOC attorneys.

Meanwhile, Austal – who build ships for the US Navy – have never undertaken any form of review or responsibility for the allegations.

2. Marcus Boyd (General Motors)

Law’s story shares a similar theme to Marcus Boyd’s, a shift supervisor at GM’s Toledo Powertrain plant in Ohio. After 14 months of enduring racist slurs and threats, he too was confronted with nooses on the shop floor.

Despite reporting several of the incidents to senior management, Boyd claims that the workers in question received minimal or even no punishment, with his local union official even suggesting that Boyd ‘let the matter go’. General Motors, meanwhile, claims that the issues were dealt with satisfactorily, while Boyd’s local union president, Dennis Earl – a 34-year-veteran of the plant – asserted in an interview with CNN that people are ‘a little too sensitive’ these days.

Finally, following complaints from other workers, a nine-month investigation was conducted by the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (in which one of Earl’s union predecessors allegedly claimed that there ‘was never a black person lynched that didn’t deserve it’), drawing the conclusion that GM did not act sufficiently. The body is now helping to bring legal action against GM, although it’s too late for Boyd and his career; increasingly fearing for his safety, he left the company in 2018.

3. McDuff Tupetagi (Rainbow Beach Adventure Company)

Originally of Maori descent, tourism worker McDuff Tupetagi was the victim of a racially motivated incident in 2017, when, upon asking his employers at Rainbow Beach Adventure Company for sun protection cream due to the outdoors nature of his role, he was instead presented with a canister bearing the words ‘black guy repellent’.

Tupetagi, in a subsequent discrimination claim to the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission, also claimed that he was frequently subjected to derogatory remarks and constantly referred to as ‘[that] black fella’ during his employment with the tour operator.

Tupetagi has since left Rainbow Beach Adventure Company, with his lawyer claiming for compensation for ‘extensive psychiatric intervention’, while the company – although condemning the actions of its employees – insist that the perpetrator of the act, Joel Mahon, was a close friend of Tupetagi and that the canister incident was intended as a practical joke.

4. Elijah Turley (ArcelorMittal)

In 2012, Elijah Turley, an African American processor operator at ArcelorMittal’s Buffalo steel plant, was awarded $25 million in damages (an amount the company later branded ‘absurd’) after a recurring series of alleged hate incidents between 2005 and 2008.

Turley testified that 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 Turley painfully recalled the taunts he experienced, while the company – despite claiming to have halted the harassment – was found liable for enabling a hostile work environment.

5. Josephine Harper (Housing 21)

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 Harper going on to complain that James scrutinised her work more rigorously than others and that her hours were reduced without explanation.

Harper, who is Irish, also claimed that James ridiculed her ‘funny accent’, referring to her as an ‘Irish g[i]psy’ and making frequent derogatory references to her in relation to the reality TV show My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding.

Despite James’ assertions that the comments were ‘just banter’, Harper – whose claims were corroborated by other workers – eventually received an out-of-court settlement, with James resigning shortly before the hearing.

6. Matheson Trucking Employees

Following complaints of racial segregation and discrimination (including allegations that bosses and fellow coworkers referred to them as ‘lazy, stupid Africans’), a small group of workers at Matheson Trucking Employees’ Denver warehouse were awarded a mammoth settlement of $15 million in 2015.

The workers (one of whom was a white whistleblower allegedly dismissed for challenging management on the issue) had filed the original lawsuit in 2010, and detailed discriminatory practices in almost every aspect of their employment. Matheson, meanwhile, defended the company’s policy on equal opportunities and announced their intention to appeal the decision.

7. JPMorgan Chase Employees

Amidst ongoing allegations of a lack of diversity on Wall Street, high-profile investment bank JPMorgan Chase settled out of court for $19.5 million with six of its employees last year, citing its commitment to ensuring a diverse and inclusive environment as its reason for avoiding litigation.

The six employees in question – located at JPMorgan Chase branches across the US – claim that they were relocated by the bank to less lucrative branches than their white counterparts, thereby denying them numerous career and growth opportunities.

As part of the settlement, an additional $4.5 million will be set aside to fund antidiscrimination training, BAME recruitment drives and coaching programmes for black employees.

8. Michael Sears (Butte County Sheriff’s Department)

US law enforcement agencies are no stranger to accusations of institutional racism, but less has been documented in terms of internal racism. Michael Sears, an eight-year deputy sheriff with the Butte County Sheriff’s Department in California, is one example of such an issue existing.

Sears claims he was harassed at work, overlooked for promotions and subjected to racist slurs, including the placing of ‘mug shots’ of famous African Americans (such as James Brown and Jesse Jackson) in his workspace with his badge number written under the pictures. A stuffed panda was also hung from the ceiling, intended, according to other witnesses, to represent Sears’ mixed ancestry.

Although Sears’ superiors continue to deny any wrongdoing, the department settled for $645,000 in 2018, while Sears has since transferred to another police department.

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 is an updated version of a previous article originally published in February 2015.