Target's "Diversity Memo" Leads to Discrimination Lawsuit
Three former employees at Target have filed a workplace discrimination and retaliation lawsuit against the company, according to an article in the Seattle P-I. The lawsuit stems in part from a “Multi-Cultural Tips” memo that included many racial and national origin stereotypes about people of Hispanic descent. Target states that the memo was only used at one location, and that it is not a reflection of the company’s values. However, the company still could be on the hook for a large damages award if the employees win their lawsuit. This case is a good reminder for employers to make sure that they create and enforce a discrimination-free workplace.
The “Multi-Cultural Tips” memo could be evidence of management’s racial or national origin discrimination. The “tips” about Hispanic employees were based almost entirely on stereotypes. For example, the memo advised managers that not all Hispanic employees eat burritos and tacos, dance salsa, or wear sombreros. Another “tip” suggested that employees of Mexican descent tend to be less educated and less likely to have legal status than workers of Cuban descent. The memo also stated that employees might pretend to understand English when they do not.
In their lawsuit, the former Target employees claim that the “Multi-Cultural Tips” memo is just one example of the discrimination that they faced. They also stated that managers would direct racial epithets toward them. The employees allege that when they complained about these issues to management, they were fired in retaliation.
Target has stated that the memo was not distributed in other locations or used as training materials. The company has also apologized for the memo and said that it goes against their policy of respect toward all employees and customers. However, even if Target has a company-wide nondiscrimination policy, it could still be liable for the alleged discrimination by these managers. When a manager unlawfully discriminates against an employee, the company can be held responsible for those actions in some circumstances.
In the wake of this incident, other companies would be wise to review their nondiscrimination policies and the way they are enforced. Just having a stated policy against discrimination may not be enough, especially if there are multiple instances where managers have discriminated against employees. Requiring employees, and especially supervisors, to participate in nondiscrimination training may help prevent these kinds of issues. Employers could also benefit from establishing guidelines about acceptable workplace behavior. Finally, setting up a system so that employees can report discrimination can also be helpful, especially if the procedures are clearly outlined for all employees.
Both Washington and federal law prohibit discriminating against employees on account of their race or national origin. Employment lawyers can help companies prevent workplace discrimination, and they can help employees who believe that they have been the victim of unlawful discrimination.