Companies have a duty to prevent employees from working in a hostile work environment. On Friday, it appears Fox attempted to do just that. The company fired “The Five” co-host Bob Beckel for a remark he made to an African American employee. Fox believes it acted appropriately by firing Beckel due to the remark. However, lawyers who represent former Fox employees say otherwise.
There have been a number of newly-filed racial discrimination lawsuits against Fox. Lawyers for these plaintiffs say that Fox created a hostile work environment for their clients. Moreover, lawyers allege that not only were there racial comments made in this case, but Beckel also attempted to get the employee to withdraw a subsequent complaint about the incident. The company denies such retaliation.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from fostering a hostile work environment on claims based on racial harassment. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2. In order to establish a hostile work environment claim, the plaintiff must show (1) that he was subject to unwelcome harassment; (2) the harassment was based on his race; (3) the harassment was severe or pervasive so as to alter the conditions of the work environment by creating a hostile or abusive situation; and (4) there is a basis for employer liability. Smith v. Northeastern Illinois University, 388 F.3d 559, 566 (7th Cir. 2004). An employer is strictly liable for harassment by a supervisor. If the harassment is committed by a co-worker, the plaintiff must show the employer knew or should have known about the harassment and failed to take reasonable steps to remedy the harassment once it was on notice. Wyninger v. New Venture Gear, Inc., 361 F.3d 965, 975 (7th Cir. 2004). Thus, in this situation, the determination will partly depend on whether Beckel was the employee’s supervisor, or whether he was merely a co-worker, which requires a higher showing.
Title VII also prohibits retaliation for raising complaints about discrimination. Specifically, it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee for opposing an unlawful employment practice. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a). Here, the employee will likely also claim Beckel retaliated against her for raising a complaint of racial discrimination.
The ultimate determination for this employee and those bringing racial discrimination claims against Fox will depend on the specific facts and circumstances of each plaintiff. If you believe you have been discriminated against based on race, or retaliated against for raising a complaint, contact Osborne Employment Law today.