Racial Remark Leads to Hefty Ruling Against Mississippi Firm

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It’s 2020, folks—a year that will always be associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. But for some, the year also represents a time of missed opportunity given the racial divide that’s still present in our country.

Employment lawyers hear the stories almost daily, and employers must be reminded that not everyone has moved beyond our nation’s past. But if a business owner turns a “blind eye,” what are the repercussions? A Mississippi employer recently found out.

Facts

Commercial Furniture Installation, Inc. (CFI), is an office furniture installation company in the Jackson, Mississippi, area. Jackie Armagost and John Haselhorst were 50/50 partners in CFI.

Aisha T. Crump, an African-American woman, worked for CFI over the course of several different periods from December 2015 to September 2018. On April 18, 2018, Armagost called Crump and terminated her without explanation. While she was in her office packing up her things, she overheard Haselhorst tell Armagost that another CFI employee, Brenda Hollis, did not want Crump’s “black ass working here.”

Thereafter, Crump filed a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). After Armagost learned of the filing, he asked Crump to drop the EEOC claim in return for reinstatement. She agreed and started back the following day but was relegated to a workstation in an isolated area at the bottom of a hot warehouse, which had no running water or bathroom.

When Crump tried to go to a higher floor to use the bathroom, Hollis wouldn’t open the door to allow her to enter. She could only go to the bathroom down the street, at the company’s store.

The harassment continued, and at the end of July 2018, CFI stopped putting Crump on the schedule. It continued to pay her in cash, however, until September 2018.

Court’s Decision

Crump filed a lawsuit alleging race discrimination, racial harassment, and retaliation. CFI failed to respond to the lawsuit, and a default judgment was ultimately entered against the company. An evidentiary hearing was held on December 17, 2019, to determine the damages amount.

Back pay. The court first analyzed a proper award for back pay, to which entitlement is presumed once discrimination has been established. In general, back-pay liability in a wrongful termination case commences from the time the discriminatory conduct causes economic injury and ends upon the date of the judgment. On that basis, the court found Crump was entitled to $52,012.58.

Front pay. Crump also sought front pay, an equitable remedy employed to account for future lost earnings. While reinstatement is generally preferred over front pay, the court recognized it wouldn’t be feasible to reinstate her into an environment where she experienced explicit race discrimination, retaliation, and hostility from the named partners. Thus, the court determined front pay was an appropriate alternative remedy…

Source: HR Daily Advisor

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