Workplace discrimination cases can be difficult to win. This is because most courts view them as likely frivolous lawsuits — and certainly nothing that would rise to the level of a criminal case. But imagine working for a state correctional system. Imagine enduring what you must from the prisoners themselves, but also systemic racism perpetrated by your colleagues. Imagine constant harassment and retaliation when you try to do something about it.
Do you have a case?
A jury court decided the answer was yes when they awarded Probation Officer Lisa Griffey a shocking $11.4 million after her claims were brought before the judge.
According to the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (or the EEOC) workplace discrimination is not defined by “[p]etty slights, annoyances, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious).” It is defined by an environment that is “intimidating, hostile, or offensive to reasonable people.” Only when the latter definition is met — and then proved in court — do you have a case. And that kind of behavior can be difficult to document. More than likely, the other party will vigorously dispute it.
In order to prevent this behavior, the EEOC urges all employers to clearly communicate legal obligations and workplace regulations. This includes: establishing a process through which employees can anonymously lodge complaints, providing effective training that meets legal standards, reviewing inappropriate behavior as soon as it arises, fostering confidence and trust in employees, and encouraging reports of inappropriate behavior.
This type of process in the corrections facility might have prevented the massive jury verdict.
Griffey described the workplace as one in which there was a “culture of racism.” She said she was routinely called racist slurs. When she tried to report the behavior, a “harassment counselor” made sure it went away. She then opted to transfer to a different office where the harassment continued in earnest.
Because of the reports, Griffey’s husband was also subject to retaliation when someone made false charges against him. He was forced to retire. Because these allegations were apparently proved in court, both Griffey and her husband received separate awards from the jury.
This verdict represented one of the biggest payouts in a long time, but remember: this occurred in late 2019. While the behavior Griffey endured might seem like an occurrence from decades ago, it’s still happening all around the country.
Recently, the United States Department of Justice had lodged a formal lawsuit against Yale University, which it said made it nearly impossible for Caucasian and Asian-American students to enroll successfully.
Colleges — especially Ivy League schools — have long used a system that allows easier enrollment for students whose parents also attended. They also factor in where a student grew up and life experiences, which are often reflected in college essays. It isn’t unusual because colleges try to foster a diverse environment for education. But the lawsuit against Yale was eventually dismissed.
Now, the Asian American Coalition for Education would like to know why. They allege that the dismissal was without merit, and that restrictive policies like the aforementioned should be abolished to favor students with the greatest potential.