This past weekend was an exciting one for me. I returned to my home town of Lakewood, New Jersey (yes, I am a Yankee who stayed in Alabama) where I graduated from high school in 1976. I had the honor and privilege of being inducted into the Lakewood High School Athletic Hall of Fame. I played football and threw the discus while in high school. My school was extremely diverse and I participated in sports with African-Americans, Caucasians, Hispanics, Cubans, Estonians, Jews, Catholics, and more. I was fortunate to be exposed to a cross section of society at an early age. So, what does this have to do with Title VII?
For many years, there has been a problem with racism in the professional soccer leagues all around Europe. CNN published an interesting article this past November, pointing out that the racism is not only between players, but also comes from fans. From throwing bananas at a Brazilian player in Russia to Nazi salutes, there were 195 documented incidents of racist and discriminatory behavior from September 2009 through March 2011.
In American football, a court in New York is allowing a lawsuit filed by 2 massage therapists to proceed against Brett Favre and the New York Jets. The therapists allege that they were sexually harassed by Favre who sent them sexually suggestive text messages. They also allege that they were fired after complaining to the Jets about the text messages.
Similar conduct has recently occurred in the United States. Just last week, during the National Hockey League playoffs, the Boston Bruins lost in overtime to the Washington Capitals in the 7th game of their series. The winning goal was scored by an African American player. CNN reported on the outbreak of racist comments across the internet by Boston fans. This has led to investigations at some schools in New England concerning students who may have posted racist remarks, including at least 5 students (3 of whom are athletes) at Gloucester High School and at least one student at Franklin Pierce University.
Last week also saw an anti-Semitic incident involving baseball. In New York, Delmon Young, an outfielder with the Detroit Tigers, who was born in Montgomery and played for the Montgomery Biscuits, was arrested after an altercation with a number of men outside a hotel. Young had been drinking and has been accused of yelling Anti-Semitic remarks at them. Young was suspended for 7 games without pay. With a salary in excess of $6 million this year, he will lose more than $240,000. He was also ordered to have a psychological and physical evaluation by Major League Baseball. Although relatively rare, there have been other similar incidents in baseball: In 1993, Marge Schott, the ex-owner of the Cincinnati Reds was fined $25,000 and suspended for 8 months after making anti-Semitic and racist comments, and Umpire Bruce Froemming was suspended for calling a female administrator for umpires a "Stupid Jew Bitch" in 2003.
Concerning activities that may be in violation of Title VII, discrimination or harassment based on sex, race, color,gender, religion and national origin, professional sports seems to be a microcosm for the rest of society. On a regular basis, charges continue to be filed with the EEOC alleging violations of Title VII. Lawsuits are regularly filed alleging violations of Title VII. Judgments are regularly returned against employers for violating Title VII.. Employees are regularly fired for violating Title VII. In just the past several weeks, a Taco Bell in North Carolina paid $27,000 to resolve a religious discrimination claim filed by the EEOC, a Little Rock, Arkansas real estate company settled a class action race discrimination claim for $600,000, and a Burger King restaurant in Oregon agreed to pay $150,000 to settle a sexual harassment claim where a teen employee was sexually harassed by her supervisor at her first job.
Practice pointer. Employers must continue to educate and train ALL employees, from top to bottom, as to what is prohibited by Title VII. Complaints must be taken seriously and properly investigated. Appropriate disciplinary action, up to and including termination, must be taken once the investigation is complete. These cases are expensive, legal fees, settlements/judgments and lost time dealing with the allegations. Morale is decreased when harassing conduct occurs in the workplace. And employers don't want to be named in an EEOC press release or on the front page of the local newspaper.