March 16, 2023

Employers Must Take Reasonable Steps to Prevent Harassing Conduct

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently filed suit against ExxonMobil Corporation for alleged violations Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The suit stems from allegations that the company failed to take effective measures to prevent the display of racially offensive or threatening conduct at one of its Louisiana chemical plants.

Employees at the company’s Baton Rouge chemical plant and nearby refinery reported multiple incidents of finding a hangman’s noose at the worksite complex. According to the EEOC, the company’s alleged failure to take steps reasonably calculated to end the harassing conduct created a racially hostile work environment sufficient to alter the terms and conditions of the workplace.

This enforcement action stands as a stark reminder of the employer’s obligation to take all steps reasonably necessary to prevent harassing conduct in the workplace.

In California, employers are also reminded that recently enacted legislation (AB 2282) expands the definition of a hate crime to include the display of hate imagery for the purpose of terrorizing a person who attends, works at, or is otherwise associated with the place of employment.  Hate imagery includes symbols, marks, signs, emblems, and other physical impressions, including, but not limited to, a Nazi swastika, nooses, or burned or desecrated crosses or other religious symbols on private and nonprivate property, as specified, with the intent to terrorize a person.

Employers are encouraged to update existing conduct policies to include this newly expanded definition of hate crime and to expand existing training efforts by encouraging supervisory personnel to report all complaints of harassing/discriminatory or retaliatory conduct.