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Family Employers And Personnel Reviews: Racial Discrimination Can Lead To Liability

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles faces allegations that it discriminated against African-American managers by unjustly giving them poor performance reviews that kept them from promotion and increased pay.

The lawsuit alleges that the "team of mostly white, high­-level managers" with final say on employee evaluations gave African-American managers low marks, even when the managers' direct supervisors had given them highly positive reviews.

The discriminatory two-step review process was uncovered by the employer's former diversity manager, herself an African-American who suffered from poorer performance reviews than her white counterparts and lower pay than her non-African-American predecessor. She filed the lawsuit against the car manufacturer, which she hopes will become a class action suit, after she was allegedly retaliated against and eventually terminated for bringing the discriminatory practice to light. Tresa Baldas "Lawsuit: Automaker mistreats African-American managers in reviews, pay," (Jan. 13, 2017).

Commentary and Checklist

It is illegal for family employers to discriminate against a staff member because of his or her race or color or to allow race-based discrimination or harassment against a staff member to occur, and this includes discriminatory performance reviews.

Title VII prohibits family employers from making any employment decision, based on a person's race, that deprives the employee of equal treatment in regard to hiring, firing, promotions, pay, break time, leave, assignments, or other term or conditions of employment. Subjecting minority employees to stricter performance review standards results in fewer promotions and lower pay.

Family employers can create a lawful culture of respect and inclusion by treating individuals of all races with the same level of professionalism.

Here are some ways family employers can prevent race discrimination and harassment:

  • Create and enforce a well-written policy that prohibits discrimination and harassment on the basis of race or color, including racist statements, remarks, jokes, symbols, gestures, and threats. Make sure you and your managers always adhere to your policy.
  • Train staff on your anti-discrimination policy, and encourage them to report wrongdoing, including all forms of racial harassment and discrimination.
  • Make sure staff and managers understand that if they engage in racial discrimination or harassment of any kind, discipline may include termination.
  • Create a method of open reporting whereby staff can report directly to you if reporting to a manager or supervisor presents difficulties. If possible, provide a toll-free number for staff to anonymously report wrongdoing to a third party.
  • Provide annual training to your managers and supervisors on preventing racial discrimination and harassment, discrimination laws, and the rights of staff that has made claims of discrimination. Include examples of a hostile work environment. Train them to spot the connection between slurs or symbols and discrimination risk.
  • Require managers and supervisors to attend racial diversity and sensitivity training.
  • If your managers train the staff, review their handouts and ask for an outline of their proposed training. Attend the training.
  • Quickly investigate all reports of insensitive or hateful behavior, racial discrimination or harassment, or a hostile work environment.
  • Take decisive remedial action when discrimination occurs.
  • Be sure to protect those who make claims of discrimination from any form of retaliation. Take all complaints of retaliation seriously and respond quickly.
  • Promote an inclusive culture in the workplace by fostering an environment of professionalism and respect for personal differences.
  • Establish neutral and objective criteria for hiring and promotions to avoid subjective employment decisions based on personal stereotypes or hidden biases.
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