Equal Employment Policies: Necessary For A Discrimination-Free Workplace

Written exclusively for My Community Workplace for Not-For-Profits Organizations

An African-American woman and former volunteer coordinator of a Mississippi nonprofit is suing the organization, alleging race discrimination.

In the lawsuit, the woman alleges the thrift store manager regularly made racially offensive comments and told inappropriate stories in her presence. The manager referred to her as "shy monkey," related a story about calling her family's black employee "stinky," and commented multiple times about giving black employees the least desirable job duties.

When the woman informed the nonprofit executive director of the manager's behavior, the director excused the manager's actions, but told the plaintiff she would address the situation. The circumstances grew worse when the manager accused the plaintiff of stealing from the thrift store.

The lawsuit also states the plaintiff tried reporting her concerns about the actions of the store manager and the director to the nonprofit's board members. They informed her that the nonprofit had no policy to address racial discrimination but promised to investigate the matter.

The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount for back pay and compensatory damages, as well as reinstatement to her position. Isabelle Altman "Area nonprofit sued for racial discrimination" www.cdispatch.com (Jun. 28, 2019).

Commentary and Checklist

Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 applies to all employers with 15 or more employees, to prohibit workplace discrimination based on race.

The nonprofit in the above case allegedly told the plaintiff that it had no policy regarding racial harassment, which probably explains, but does not excuse, why the executive director did not take any meaningful action in response to the plaintiff's initial complaints.

Every employer should have a policy and procedures reflecting the anti-discrimination protections of Title VII. Without a written policy in place, along with training and reporting procedures, any racial discrimination claims brought against the employer will be difficult to successfully defend. For a nonprofit, one claim could mean the financial ruin of the organization.

The following suggestions can help nonprofits develop an anti-discrimination policy and avoid liability risk:

  • Establish a written policy preventing harassment, discrimination, and retaliation, that is clear, understandable, and gives examples and definitions.
  • Include in your policy a clearly written complaint procedure for employees to report harassment, discrimination, or retaliation without fear.
  • Be sure to provide a safe and effective means for employees to report discrimination.
  • Create and consistently follow procedures for a timely and thorough investigation of all complaints.
  • Train your managers and supervisors annually on discrimination behaviors and prevention.
  • Post and/or provide a copy of the policy and procedures to all employees annually.
  • Act quickly and decisively when a person is found to have discriminated against an employee.
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