By Francine Foner, Esq., Ty Hyderally, Esq.
In a press release issued by the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights (DCR) and Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal on July 28, 2020, the DCR announced that it has issued two Findings of Probable Cause (FPC) for claims asserted by Claudia Robinson (“Robinson”), an African American project manager, that she was discriminated against on the basis of race and age by her employer and one of her employer’s corporate clients. As the DCR explained the “two FPCs mean that, based on a preliminary investigation, DCR has found sufficient evidence to credit Robinson’s allegations, and to move her two complaints forward to a public hearing or a lawsuit in court.”
Robinson, age 35, alleged that she was discriminated against by a corporate client to whom she had been assigned to work as a project manager. Robinson also alleged that her employer aided and abetted the client’s discrimination when it granted the client’s request to remove Robinson from the project manager job because two Caucasian female managers at the client were opposed to working with a young, successful African American woman. Robinson further alleged that after she complained about this discrimination to upper management and human resources, her employer then unlawfully retaliated against her by reassigning her to a lower-profile project manager role with another client.
Robinson alleged that between August 2017 and May 2018, she was assigned to serve in a project manager position at a corporate client, replacing a middle-aged Caucasian female who had resigned. Robinson further claimed that two of her managers, both Caucasian women in their 50s, misrepresented that she was not performing well because of their not wanting to work with a young, African American woman. Her assertions included that the managers excluded her from important communications with other team members. In addition, several witnesses provided additional information supporting Robinson’s claims to the DCR. One witness stated she overheard one of Robinson’s managers referring to Robinson as a “black bitch” and that “it was apparent from the outset that both women did not like Robinson, and that race was ‘absolutely’ a factor in the way both women treated Robinson.”
Another witness told the DCR that she believed the corporate client’s management, including both of the managers identified by Robinson, “did not expect Robinson to be intelligent and capable of being a project manager because she is young and Black.” That witness also stated that the client’s management had treated Robinson’s predecessor and subsequent replacement, both of whom are white, with “more respect and deference” than they showed Robinson. A third witness told the DCR that she anticipated that Robinson would not succeed at the corporate client because their management “scrutinizes Black employees more than non-Black employees and has a negative attitude towards younger managers.” Yet another witness told the DCR that she believed the issues between Robinson and the client’s management were because Robinson was “different” from them, and that both of the Caucasian managers “were used to working with people who looked and spoke like they did.” Lastly, another witness told the DCR that “it was ‘obvious’ that Robinson’s race and age were factors in the way both women at [the client] treated her. Specifically, the witness stated that both women did not like that a “smart, sharp, young, Black woman was in their midst and on the same level as them.”
Robinson further asserted that after she complained to her employer about the discrimination and retaliation, she was subjected to a hostile work environment because of her race and age, and that her employer did not support her or make any good faith effort to investigation her claims of harassment.
In finding probable cause against Robinson’s employer, the DCR determined that the evidence was sufficient to support a “reasonable suspicion that, despite explicit complaints to three high-level employees, [the employer] took no action to investigate or remedy the hostile work environment.”
The press release included Attorney General Grewal’s observation that “There is no room for racism or ageism in the workplace. We expect all employees to demonstrate respect for the rights and dignity of their co-workers, and we expect employers to take allegations of discrimination on the job seriously. That certainly means employers cannot retaliate against those who report racist conduct, ageism or any form of discrimination. Taking such allegations seriously is not only the right thing to do, it is the law, and we will hold violators accountable.”
DCR Director, Rachel Wainer Apter, added that “The allegations in this complaint speak to a broader problem in today’s workplace. African American people are routinely subjected to micro-aggressions, enhanced scrutiny, and even harassment at work from people who may not be intentionally racist but are simply more ‘comfortable’ with those who they perceive to be more ‘like them.’ Workplaces must invest resources to create an anti-racist culture that raises up diverse experiences and perspectives and treats all employees with dignity and respect.”
In April 2020, after Robinson had filed her complaints of discrimination and retaliation with the DCR, she was terminated. Robinson then filed an additional complaint with the DCR, claiming, among other things, that she was terminated in retaliation for her filing complaints with the DCR. According to the press release, the DCR’s investigation of that matter is continuing.
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