Racial Harassment is Not Old News

Recent news about two Virginia political leaders wearing “blackface” in the 1980s might leave the impression that such behavior is a thing of the past. But a brand-new appellate case shows that, sadly, it is alive and well today.

Sidney Sims, a custodian at Columbia University in New York City, sued, claiming that his supervisors had created a hostile work environment due to his being African-American, age 59, and having physical disabilities. 

In a decision on January 31, 2019, a  New York appellate court found that Sims had submitted evidence that his supervisors constantly made racially derogatory comments, including calling him “Bubbles,” which he testified was a reference to Michael Jackson’s pet chimpanzee. They referred to him as “boy”, using a Southern accent. He also alleged that he was told that he was “too old for the job,” that he worked like he “just came back from surgery,” and that he had “too many worker’s comp cases and… should resign.” 

The Court ruled that this evidence entitled Sims to present his case to a jury, so they could determine whether he was subjected to a hostile work environment based on race, age and disability.

What this means to you: Racist behavior is not a thing of the past. That’s why our harassment prevention training includes all types of illegal harassment, not just sexual harassment. Have your managers and supervisors attend our Harassment Prevention Training webinar.

Information here is correct at the time it is posted. Case decisions cited here may be reversed. Please do not rely on this information without consulting an attorney first.


About the Author:

Rita M. Risser Chai is the founder of Fair Measures. An attorney in California for 20 years and now an attorney in Hawaii, she authored the Prentice Hall book, Stay Out of Court! The Manager’s Guide to Preventing Employee Lawsuits. She developed most of the curriculum used by Fair Measures, created the firm’s first website praised in HR Magazine, and wrote numerous articles on employment law including one on best practice harassment prevention training published in the magazine of the American Society for Training and Development (now ATD). She taught Law and Human Resources at the University of California, Santa Cruz, for eight years, and has presented four times at the annual conventions of the Hawaii Society of Human Resource Management.