Employer’s use of consultant to train was an expensive mistake
An African American woman, Connie, was hired as a manager. When she was hired, there were no other African American employees at the jobsite and the company had no other African American managers at all at the same level as Connie.
The employer paid a “consultant” to provide a training program for its employees. The company required that each of its employees attend one of several training sessions.
Connie attended a training session, during which the consultant played a video clip depicting a caricature of an African American fast food worker as an example of “how not to provide customer service.”
Connie filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC, which concluded that the employer retaliated against her.
When the EEOC determined that it was unable to secure from the employer a conciliation agreement acceptable to the EEOC, it sued the employer on the employee’s behalf. EEOC v. Lafayette Schools’ Federal Credit Union, N/K/A Meritus Credit Union, Case 2:18-cv-06673-LMA-KWR (E.D. La. 2018)
Specifically, the EEOC lawsuit was brought as an action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) alleging unlawful employment practices on the basis of retaliation for the employer’s act of discharging Connie immediately after she opposed and reported race-based discrimination.
Connie was so upset by the video clip that she left the room while it was playing. Company officials were aware that she left the room while the clip was playing, and the company was aware that Connie was upset by the clip.
After the session, other African American employees told Connie that they were upset by the video clip, as well.
The next day Connie reported to the employer that an African American employee was upset by the video clip, believing that the clip was racially offensive.
The following day the company sent an email to employees in which the consultant apologized to them for using the video clip. On that same day, the company terminated Connie.
In addition to paying this monetary amount, the employer is now bound by a three-year consent decree requiring it to provide a variety of other, non-monetary relief. For instance, the employer must provide regular training to its employees on retaliation.
Take home message for Florida businesses:
While many consultants may be adequate trainers, this recent case clearly demonstrates a situation where a consultant’s choice of training materials offended minority employees. That may have been avoided if the employer had used experienced labor counsel to provide the training, rather than just a consultant.
Importantly, the employer in this case made matters worse by terminating the employee who complained. Clearly that termination decision drove this entire lawsuit. This illustrates the perfect example of how an employer could have used a labor & employment lawyer to review the decision to terminate prior to firing the employee.
Even if this consultant may have been to blame for utilizing an inappropriate video for the training, the employer could have salvaged the matter and avoided the entire lawsuit if it had sought the advice of a lawyer. It is almost certain that given these facts, as reported in this article (which are taken from the EEOC press release and the EEOC lawsuit) an employment lawyer would have warned the employer that terminating the black employee who complained was a bad idea and risked a retaliation lawsuit.
In the event that your Florida business is thinking about harassment training or civility training, or other management training, our law firm can provide such live training tailored to your specific workplace. If you desire such training, please email the law Office of David Miklas or call us at 1-772-465-5111.
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In the EEOC lawsuit, they alleged that the employer’s reason for terminating Connie was that she opposed the use of the racially offensive video clip by abruptly leaving the room while it was playing and/or for reporting that another employee was upset by the racially offensive video clip. The EEOC also alleged that the employer terminated Connie because her actions in response to the training session violated the company’s code of conduct.
The EEOC lawsuit noted that prior to terminating her, the employer never provided Connie with any warning or reprimand for her actions before, during, or after the training session. The EEOC also focused on the allegation that prior to terminating her, the company never gave Connie any negative performance evaluation, and always gave her positive performance evaluations.
The thrust of the EEOC lawsuit was that the employer terminated the Black employee in retaliation for engaging in activity protected by Title VII.
In December 2018 the EEOC issued a press release announcing that it settled this lawsuit whereby the employer agreed to pay $110,000.