Discrimination and Racism in the Workplace

How U.S. companies could learn from Canadian legislation

By: Corinne Sato, Staff Writer

Both Paula Deena and Target have attracted media attention recently for racist policies toward their employees. Canada’s own laws strictly prohibit workplace discrimination.

Lisa Jackson, a former employee at one of Paula Deen’s restaurants, filed a lawsuit against the famous chef. Jackson claimed Deen wasn’t only disrespectful towards employees, but also said racist comments in the workplace.

In the Transcripts of Deen’s testimony, Jackson’s laywer, Matthew Billips, asks Deen, “Have you ever used the N word yourself?”

[pullquote]Yet the point of the lawsuit isn’t whether Deen is racist. It’s how she has treated her employees at her restaurants.[/pullquote]

“Yes. Of course,” Deen answers.

Deen continues that she used the word in the past when describing how she was held at gunpoint during a bank robbery.

Yet the point of the lawsuit isn’t whether Deen is racist. It’s how she has treated her employees at her restaurants.

Due to the media hype and negative publicity, big-name companies like Target have pulled Deen’s products off their shelves.

However, Target is also being sued for discriminating employees in the workplace.


Courtesy of j.reed

Three former warehouse employees are alleging that Target has been providing “multi-cultural tips” to managers, according to the Courthouse News Service. The training document “Organization Effectiveness, Employee and Labor Relations Multi-Cultural Tips,” informs managers that not all Hispanic employees “eat tacos, dance to salsa or wear sombreros.”

Courthouse News Service also reports that the three Hispanic employees claim that the white Target managers subjected them to racial slurs frequently harassed and humiliated them.

In Canada, employees are not only protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but they’re also protected under provincial legislation such as the Alberta Human Rights Act. Both federal and provincial levels of government ensure that Canadian companies are equal opportunity employers and that there is legislation in place to protect employees from harassment.

The Alberta Humans Right Commission website states that “The Alberta Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination in employment based on the protected grounds of race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, religious beliefs, gender, age, physical disability, mental disability, marital status, family status, source of income and sexual orientation.”

“Employers are responsible for ensuring that all employees are free from harassment and discrimination based on the grounds in the AHR Act,” it says.

If there is discrimination within a workplace, employers are to handle the matter promptly and efficiently. However, if a company chooses to ignore the situation and the Human Rights Commission gets involved, it can fine the company.

To deter companies from ignoring complaints, the Alberta Human Rights Commission advises, “When acts of discrimination are ignored, it causes low employee morale, high stress, damaged professional reputations, absenteeism and dissatisfied employees and clients.”

Paula Deen and Target should note that discrimination in the workplace doesn’t yield a productive or happy staff, before they find themselves in court.

Corinne Sato is a freelance journalist and photographer who likes to bake, cook and travel. 

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