A federal judge dismissed a former employee’s race discrimination claims against Paula Deen, according to an article in the Seattle P-I. The judge ruled that the employee, who is white, does not have the right to bring a claim based on workplace discrimination against African-American workers. However, the judge did not dismiss the employee’s sexual harassment claims against Deen’s brother, Bubba Hiers. This case is an interesting example of potential limits on employment discrimination claims based on race.
In her discrimination lawsuit, the employee claimed that she was personally harmed by attitudes of racial bias pervaded the restaurant owned by Deen and Hiers. According to the employee, the restaurant’s atmosphere of racial discrimination caused her to experience work-related distress because of the personnel management issues it created and the fact that she could not help employees who complained about discriminatory acts. The employee also claimed that she was personally offended by Hiers’s telling racist jokes, making racist statements, and using racial slurs because she has biracial nieces.
However, the district judge ruled that the former employee did not have the right to sue based on discrimination against African-American employees. Because the discriminatory acts and statements were not directed at her, the former employee was at best an accidental victim of any racial discrimination that may have occurred. The judge determined that Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects employees from discrimination based on race or color, did not apply to people who were offended by, but were not the victims of, unlawful race discrimination.
One big issue in a workplace discrimination claim is whether the employee who brings the lawsuit is actually a victim of discrimination. In this case, the district judge did not dismiss Deen and Hiers’s former employee’s claim based on sexual harassment that she personally suffered. However, because the employee herself was not a victim of any alleged race discrimination, the judge dismissed those claims.
This case shows that it matters who brings a claim for unlawful discrimination. An employee who is merely offended upset because of discrimination or harassment might not have the right to bring an employment lawsuit. On the other hand, employees will usually be able to sue if they are the victims of adverse employment actions such as firing or demotion because of discrimination. In addition, an employee who is not a victim of discrimination, but who faces retaliation for speaking out against discrimination, will usually be able to bring a lawsuit.
Washington law and federal law prohibit employers from discriminating against employees based on race, gender, or other protected categories. If you believe that you have been the victim of workplace discrimination, feel free to contact an employment lawyer for advice.