Thursday, September 4, 2008

Race discrimination: Time to update your training?

When is the right time to retrain employees or update policies regarding discrimination in the workplace?

Well, hopefully before something like this happens ...

NIAGARA FALLS — It didn’t take long for the city worker accused of putting a “whites only” sign on a public works drinking fountain to realize it was a really bad idea.

“There’s going to be trouble,” a co-worker predicted shortly after James Curtis put up the sign Aug. 13 in the public works yard, according to court papers filed in the case.

Curtis, 52, of 80th Street, a 26- year employee in the Public Works Department, told police before his arrest last Friday that he took down the sign after he realized he might get in trouble.

By that time, an African-American co-worker had photographed it with his cell phone.

Curtis said he confessed last week to posting the sign because his conscience got the better of him, although not before he lied about his involvement when first confronted by Detective Frank Coney.

Curtis is now facing a “Class E felony” after the charge of second-degree aggravated harassment was bumped up to a racially-motivated hate crime. Read more from The Buffalo News.

Of course Curtis intended the sign to be a joke and not offensive. Joke or not, how could a 26- year employee think that a stunt like this could be laughed off as a silly joke? How does this kind of discrimination still exist in workplace settings across the country?

In response to a pending 2003 discrimination suit, the city said it has “stepped up” diversity training, but several city officials want the administration to do more.

Niagara Falls mayor (aka. Curtis’ boss) said his administration has a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination in the workplace and has started disciplinary proceedings against Curtis.

Other than making diversity training mandatory for all employees and having a zero-tolerance policy, what more can city officials do to wipe out this kind of inappropriate behavior in workplace areas? Is this just one example of one bad employee making a huge mistake or a bigger, more widespread problem?

For one reason or another, many employees hold some kind of resentment for diversity training, so what have we been doing wrong? Is it even possible to solve the issue of workplace discrimination with training and policies?

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