Yesterday President Biden signed legislation making Juneteenth a federal holiday. This is a day, June 19 (which we celebrate on the Friday before TODAY-since June 19 is a Saturday this year) when slaves in Texas were notified that they were freed. It is an important day in the evolution of equality in our country. It is also a good day to reflect on the fact that, while we have come far in combatting discrimination in the workplace, including race discrimination, we still have work to do. A quick review of recent cases demonstrates that race discrimination and harassment has not gone away.
This week, six Los Angeles firefighters sued the department, alleging race discrimination. They accused the department leadership of fostering a "good ol' white boys club" within the department. The allegations stem from years of alleged mistreatment, including establishment of certain "whites only" stations referred to as "black free zones," making denigrating remarks about blacks referring to them as "slugs," denying promotions, targeting them for discipline unfairly, promotion of white employees with less experience, denial of training, unfair performance assessments, with leaders demonstrating racist and bigoted attitudes.
A second employee at Oregon's Bureau of Labor & Industries sued this week, alleging racial discrimination at the agency.
Last week JBS agreed to pay $5.5 million to as many as 300 employees of its beef packing plant in Greeley, Colorado. The employees were claiming race and national origin harassment and discrimination. The allegations included use of the "N" word and slurs against Muslim employees.
In an article published in Vox this week, dozens of Amazon employees accused Amazon's HR leaders of failing to protect them against racial harassment and discrimination. https://www.vox.com/recode/22524538/amazon-diversity-black-employees-human-resources-department. The article details five different lawsuits filed in recent months alleging what the magazine calls "'shocking' allegations of racial discrimination." Black employees were allegedly called the "N" word, and "angry black women."
A quick review of EEOC press releases reveals that other organizations have paid out large sums to settle complaints of race discrimination just in the last two months of 2021: Birmingham Alabama's Birmingham beverage agreed to pay out $825,000 for promotion and hiring discrimination against black employees and applicants; an Illinois company agreed to pay $40,000 to settle a claim involving verbal harassment and nooses hanging in the workplace; Ryder and Kimco in California agreed to pay $2 million on a claim of racial harassment that involved the use of racial slurs; a Miami company agreed to pay out $130,000 in a claim involving racial harassment and retaliation.
FY20 statistics for the EEOC (released February 2021) indicated that nearly 50% of claims filed with the federal agency involved race, color, or national origin discrimination or harassment. Nearly $55 million was paid out over FY20 on these claims.
In short, we celebrate Juneteenth today, but still have a long way to go to eliminate or significantly reduce discrimination or harassment in the workplace based on these protected classes. Let's keep working!