Posted July 9, 2024
One Person's "Joke" Is Another Person's Hostile Environment

Article from


February 26, 2024


A Texas used vehicle dealer agreed to pay $22,500 and to provide other relief to settle a race discrimination lawsuit brought under Title VII against the dealer by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of one of its sales personnel.


The EEOC alleged AOD Ventures, Inc., doing business as Autos of Dallas, subjected a Black salesperson to illegal harassment. The EEOC alleged management called the salesperson to the front of the room during a 2019 holiday party and presented him with a trophy labeled "Least Likely to Be Seen in the Dark."


The EEOC alleged the employee, and some other employees, attending the party were offended by the trophy. Other coworkers, however, teased the salesperson and subjected him to additional offensive comments. The salesperson allegedly complained to the general manager, but no investigation ensued nor was any remedial action taken to address the conduct.


The two-year consent decree resolving the lawsuit requires the employer to provide race discrimination and harassment training to all employees and avoid "any illegal employment practice that discriminates on the basis of race, including race harassment that creates a hostile work environment." "Autos of Dallas Settles EEOC Race Discrimination Suit" (Jan. 10, 2024).




Title VII prohibits workplace harassment based on race or color. All race-based jokes should be prohibited in the workplace because even one, as in this case, can turn into additional offensive behaviors. According to the EEOC, harassment can include "racial slurs, offensive or derogatory remarks about a person’s race or color, or the display of racially-offensive symbols."


In this case, the "joke" was made in front of coworkers, which was degrading, and led to more teasing from coworkers. The joke was disrespectful and a violation of personal boundaries creating a pervasive, hostile environment harassment risk, according to the EEOC.


If the general manager had immediately investigated the matter and taken appropriate disciplinary actions against the manager who awarded the "trophy" and against the peers who engaged in teasing, the risk of this lawsuit would have been much lower.


Whenever racism is alleged, whether from an action, comment, or joke, it is important to perform a professional, timely and fair investigation. The failure to perform an investigation and address workplace wrongdoing effectively creates a liability exposure.


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