Pro-Obama Racism in the Workplace

With the election of the first African-American president of the United States, came a new basis for discrimination. Maybe not so surprising, some employers have responded quite negatively to supporters of President Obama. One particular case of note was filed in Ohio by Eric Paasewe, who is of African descent, and was harassed and ultimately terminated from his job after expressing his support of President Obama.

Paasewe v. Action Group, Inc.

When Paasewe wore a pro-Obama T-shirt to work, he triggered a campaign of racially offensive behavior at his workplace. A co-worker called him "boy" after he wore the T-shirt and warned him not to wear it again. The co-worker threatened to kill both Paasewe and Barrack Obama if he got elected. He also told Paasewe he should "take Obama back to Africa to vote for him."

The co-worker told Paasewe that the car he drove was too expensive for a black man and questioned what Paasewe did outside of his job to afford such an expensive vehicle. He also asked Paasewe and about his "true identity." Although Paasewe complained about the racially hostile work environment to management, the co-worker was only given a verbal warning.

After the incident with Paasewe's pro-Obama T-shirt, his employer issued a new policy banning political paraphernalia from the workplace. Nevertheless, the HR director started bringing in flyers and pins in support of John McCain. When Paasewe complained that this was a violation of the new policy prohibiting political paraphernalia, the president allegedly threatened Paasewe, saying as follows: "[L]et me tell you something boy. … [Y]ou don't know what I am capable of doing to anyone who tr[ies] to destroy my company."

In December of 2008, Paasewe sustained a back injury while at work and was discharged. When he tried to return to work 11 days later, he was told by the HR director that he was under "some kind of investigation," and was not allowed to return.

Title VII Prohibits This Type of Treatment

A federal anti-discrimination statute, known as Title VII, prohibits race discrimination and racial harassment (or racially hostile work environment). This includes taking actions such as hiring, firing, pay raises, job assignments, promotions, layoffs or reductions in force, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment, because of someone's race. It also includes harassing conduct such as the use of derogatory racial jokes and comments by co-employees. In this case, the court determined that the actions taken against Paasewe, including the Obama comments, could easily be considered racially motivated rather than politically motivated. The court noted: "The [co-worker's] use of the term 'boy' in reference to Paasewe and in context of his racially-charged statements about Obama are sufficient evidence to permit a reasonable jury to conclude that [the co-worker's] conduct was race-based." For more information about race discrimination, or if you believe you may be a victim of race discrimination, feel free to contact our firm for a consultation to discuss your rights.

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