Texas suit tests limits of discrimination law

Texas suit tests limits of discrimination law

Texas and federal laws protect workers from discrimination on the basis of race. Sometimes this discrimination comes in the form of systematically denying job opportunities against employees or job candidates on the basis of race. Sometimes it comes in more subtle ways that are difficult to prove in court.

One type that can be difficult to prove is known as a hostile work environment. This term applies to a workplace where employees are subjected to severe and pervasive harassment on the basis of race. Courts ask whether the harassment was so severe and pervasive that a reasonable person under the same circumstance would feel it was intimidating, hostile or abusive.

A recent Texas case tests the boundaries of this question. The case may be headed to the United States Supreme Court.

Racial epithet in graffiti

The discrimination lawsuit involves Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas.  According a lawsuit filed by a former hospital employee, an offensive racial epithet was scratched into the wall of an elevator in the hospital that he and other workers used regularly. This meant that he was confronted with the offensive word in the workplace on a regular basis.

The man’s lawsuit eventually went to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which found that the circumstances did not satisfy the legal test for a hostile work environment because the offensive word was not directed at the man.

The former employee and his co-plaintiffs are not satisfied with this ruling and told reporters that they are considering petitioning the Supreme Court to take up the case. Reportedly, the NAACP and other groups are supporting the idea.

Defending against discrimination claims

Employers may be put in an uncomfortable position when defending against a discrimination claim. No one wants their company to be perceived as bigoted. That would be bad for relations with their customers and their own employees.

Still, employers have the right to defend themselves in court. They may even have a duty to their stakeholders to defend themselves. These cases require the sensitivity and skill that only an experienced employment law attorney can provide.