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Three African American employees of a winery in Napa sued the winery for racial discrimination, wrongful termination, and retaliation.  A national staffing agency, Aerotek, hired the three to work as temporary, special project workers.  They were placed with a family winery in Salida, and their job assignment consisted mainly of loading and unloading wine bottles.  The employees were supervised by the winery’s staff, however their wages were paid by Aerotek.

According to the lawsuit, on three separate occasions, the supervisor of the employees, who is Hispanic, called the workers “mayates”, which is an incredibly offensive term in Spanish for African Americans.  The other Hispanic employees of the winery laughed at the insult.

After the third time the term was used, one of the African American Aerotek employees complained to the managers of the winery regarding the remarks.  The following day she was fired from the winery position, and her supervisor refused to place her at another jobsite.  Not only was the employee who alerted the winery of the discrimination terminated, the other two African Americans who did not complain were fired by the winery as well.

A few days after being fired, the terminated employee who had initially complained emailed Aerotek about the offensive language that was used, and she informed them she was fired within 24 hours of making the grievance.  It took the staffing agency several days to respond to the employee’s allegations, and left a phone message for her.  She tried to respond to the staffing manager’s message, but he never returned any of her calls or responded to her complaint.

Aerotek and the winery were named in the lawsuit.  The complaint alleges that the the employees could have been moved to a different jobsite, but rather decided to terminate them in retaliation for complaining about the racial discrimination.  The plaintiffs seek compensation for lost wages, benefits, and physical and mental suffering. They are also pursuing punitive damages.

If the facts alleged in the complaint are true, it’s likely that both the winery and the staffing agency in this case engaged in illegal racial discrimination.  Under California law and federal law, treating an applicant or an employee unfavorably because he or she is of a certain race, or has personal characteristics associated with race, is illegal.  Color discrimination is also illegal, which involves treating someone unfavorably because of skin complexion.  Racial discrimination does not always involve people of two different races – in some cases, the victim and the perpetrator are the same race.

Under federal and state law, discrimination is illegal when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, promotions, job assignments, layoffs, benefits and any other term or condition of employment.  Therefore, not only is firing someone because of their race illegal, but also refusing to hire them, refusing to promote them, or failing to offer them the same benefits as other people of other races is also illegal.

In some cases, racial discrimination can occur unintentionally because of a policy from the employer.  By law, an employment policy or practice that applies to everyone, regardless of race or color, can be illegal if it has a negative impact on the employment of people of a particular race or color, and if it is not necessary and related to the operation of the business.  One example is a policy that everyone’s hair must be worn a certain way, which is not reasonable for people of certain races, and does not affect the day to day operations of the business.

If you have been discriminated against or harassed in the workplace, you should speak with an attorney as soon as possible.  You have legal rights, which you must stand up for.  At Liberty Law, Micha Star Liberty believes that no employees should be discriminated against or harassed because of their race.  Call Micha Star Liberty, Oakland racial discrimination attorney, at 510-645-1000.  She can help.  Call today to learn more or to schedule a free consultation.

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