Harassment, racism, sexism, bullying, working for progressive Texas city
January 22, 2018 3:44 AM   Subscribe

New job, maybe three months in. He is working on this very blue-collar crew, ex prison, ex military. Crude, rude, racist, sexist, tons of passive aggressive behavior. All day long an ongoing litany about gays being garbage who should be killed, all day long ongoing litany about blacks being garbage who should be killed, all day long going on about any woman that they see.

My friend started this job three months ago, really excited about a job with the city, as it's a good choice for someone without a degree. Every day he's turned off the alarm and gotten up immediately, eager to go to work. But this job is a nightmare.

On one of the first days on the job, the whole crew was called together, was told "Hey, do NOT go to HR if you have a problems working with anyone on this crew, just work it out, mano a mano.. Deal with it." Which leads me to believe that someone *has* gone to HR, HR landed on the managers, and the managers, rather than manage, have dumped it back onto the crew.

His best friend is a black guy. His lover is trans. And even if that were not the case he's way above this. He does not go along with any of their garbage, which has of course made it worse. Two men in particular are continually getting right into his face, challenging him to fight, "What, are you a homo? Talk up!" These two men who are most in hims face, one from long years in prison, tatts all over his face, in a Mexican gang in prison, and maybe out of prison. His uncle is one of the supervisors who said to "deal with it mano a mano." The other top harasser is military, goes back and tours in Afghanistan still, talks about shooting dogs, talks about shooting blacks, on and on. All day long. Every day.

It has gotten to the point now where my friend is ostracized by all on the crew. A job he wanted so much to love and his guts are in knots all day long. What none of these guys know is that my friend spent his youth fighting all the time, and maybe wouldn't win but you'd know you'd met him. But he doesn't want to fight because he doesn't want to lose the job, also.

There has got to be a legal solution to this. This is insane.

I told him that starting today he must leave his phone on "record" all day long. And do this every day. It's a damn shame he doesn't have a recording of the crew leaders telling them to work it out mano a mano. Even still, a week or two of these peoples garbage on tape would almost certainly give him a lever, if he knew where and how to apply it.

I'm thinking it would be great that if the city refuse to make changes, he could sue them for about fourteen different reasons.

Quite honestly, I'm amazed that this garbage is not only allowed but even condoned.

Long question. What can my friend do? He is recording, starting today. He is still holding back, not wanting to fight, really wanting this job. But the people he is working with are among the lowest of the low; he's not going to be able to hold on too much longer.

Any help greatly appreciated.
posted by dancestoblue to Work & Money (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
IANAL. Your friend needs to consult with an employment attorney in Texas because I don't think either one of you has any idea how to approach this. Your friend recording these conversations may be illegal and that can get him fired -- Texas is a single party consent state but as he is recording other peoples' conversations, he has no party's consent.

My guess is that his attorney would suggest going to HR and advise what evidence and ammunition to go with (this is where he needs legal advice.) If he is unable to resolve this with the help of HR, his attorney may suggest he has a case for constructive discharge. I have no idea how often those cases fly in Texas; this is one of about 1200 reasons to have an employment law attorney.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:23 AM on January 22, 2018 [23 favorites]

Why is he holding back? These people need to be called out on their bullshit.

My husband finds himself in this situation A LOT at work. He is a union welder and a commercial fisherman, an ex-felon and has several assault charges under his belt (to be clear I think this is bad, but I'm just describing his presentation). He has tats and missing teeth. He is college educated and liberal. He is also the type to never, ever take any shit without calling the offender out, even if it means putting himself at odds with every other person there. He isn't afraid of turning someone's offensive remarks into an uncomfortable situation. He has never gotten into a physical altercation at work.

I will say that it's not so nice to call these people "the lowest of the low." Racist, sexist, homophobic - yes. But they are the way they are for a reason and it ain't because they were born scum. As my husband tells it, he feels he could so easily have gone that way too. He thinks he's helping them by pointing out their bigotry.

I don't think it's totally right but if your friend is looking to feel more satisfied at work then nothing beats laying your head down at night knowing that you fought the good fight.
posted by pintapicasso at 5:30 AM on January 22, 2018 [7 favorites]

It sounds like your friend is in physical danger. Also, recordings may be illegal. Yes, lawyer stat.
posted by jbenben at 5:44 AM on January 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

I would first look into whatever rules surround starting the job - new city employees here are on a six month probation period to start, during which time they can be let go for just about any reason. Is he in a union? They may also be helpful, or not. My city also has a commission that deals with diversity, discrimination, etc. I would do a little research to see if there's something like that, or a politician who is known to support that. It's possible the manager is connected.
posted by sepviva at 5:53 AM on January 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

If he doesn't record (and I agree he shouldn't unless he knows for sure it's legal), he should document contemporaneously. Every night, write down or record what happened that day. It will be more reliable and convincing than if he tries to summarize everything that happened over a long period.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 6:32 AM on January 22, 2018 [9 favorites]

He should keep a work journal. Every day, write down what happens, even if nothing remarkbale happens. Date the entries and include the weather and supervisor's name -- from what I've heard, these details are what make this stuff admissible is court.

And see an employment lawyer, who will actually know how to keep a legally admissible work journal and what the next steps are.
posted by cnidaria at 8:55 AM on January 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

Date the entries and include the weather and supervisor's name -- from what I've heard, these details are what make this stuff admissible is court.

None of this will be admissible on its own unless he is dead, basically; it's all hearsay. What it will be useful for is preparing him to testify about specific incidents involving specific people on specific dates (and giving him credibility in the eyes of investigators).
posted by praemunire at 9:55 AM on January 22, 2018 [4 favorites]

None of this will be admissible on its own unless he is dead, basically; it's all hearsay.
The fact that he kept a contemporaneous record of events rather than confabulating a story after the fact is very important for his credibility, though, and such a record would be important to establish the dates on which he initially told the story. Keeping a record by emailing stories to a credible, trusted third party brings in additional corroboration of the dates on which he first committed to that version of events.
posted by LizardBreath at 10:04 AM on January 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

The fact that he kept a contemporaneous record of events rather than confabulating a story after the fact is very important for his credibility, though, and such a record would be important to establish the dates on which he initially told the story. Keeping a record by emailing stories to a credible, trusted third party brings in additional corroboration of the dates on which he first committed to that version of events.

I don't think you understand. The existence of the journal will not be allowed into the record. Emails recounting his version of events, or their existence, will not be allowed into the record. As always in the law, there are some exceptions, but this one is a pretty basic application of the rules of evidence (in this case, Texas Rule of Evidence 801). The only exception that might even come into play here is if an opposing party accused him of having recently changed his version of events, which, if they are competent, they won't do, because they'll have gotten the journal in discovery.

A record is still very useful for lots of reasons, including some related to litigation! OP's friend should keep one! But the odds it will appear in the record in court are quite slim. Fussing over its admissibility, as opposed to its accuracy and thoroughness (and lack of any extraneous compromising material), is a waste of energy.
posted by praemunire at 12:04 PM on January 22, 2018 [5 favorites]

I think a key point is going to be sorting out what is actionable from what is just frustrating and upsetting.

So for example: anti-gay or anti-black comments probably do rise to an actionable violation - the talking about shooting dogs in Afghanistan probably not. Sexual harassment of women on the job - actionable. General rudeness, probably not.

By separating it out - making a 'memorandum for record' is a little better than a journal, imho, but it's the same principle - he'll have a clear log that's easy to read and report.
posted by corb at 1:29 PM on January 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

Texas is a one-party consent state for recording; he can record any conversation he's part of without anyone else's permission. He can't record conversations he's not part of, and I don't know what the law does about general recordings at a workplace. (On the one hand, he's not part of a conversation between two other guys. On the other, if he's expected to listen at least a little, in case one of them calls on him to help, maybe he is.)

A notebook won't be admissible in court but it will help him make a case - having names, dates, specific things said will set the groundwork. However, it'll still be "he says they said these things" and they have the right to say, "nah, we said something else; he didn't hear us right." However, a detailed list that ties into the work of the day and current events can make it clear to a judge or jury that he's the one telling the truth--especially if the other guys firmly believe that they're not saying anything that's not allowed at work. ("We didn't say he was a faggot; we called him a homo! That doesn't make it a hostile workplace if he really is one!")

It does sound like a hostile workplace arrangement, and telling people not to go to HR sounds like a lawsuit in the making. Is there an employee handbook, or other official version of what you should do in case of on-the-job problems?
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 1:32 PM on January 22, 2018

What is the end goal here? If your friend wants behavior changes, I find it unlikely that another scolding from HR will do that. If your friend wants people to be fired, complaining to HR or taking legal action failing that *might* have that effect, especially if the violations are well-documented, but I wouldn't necessarily count on it. (I agree with those saying to lawyer up if you plan to pursue that route.) Organizations tend to have ways of protecting their own from consequences, and I find it difficult to believe that this behavior doesn't have at least some implicit approval or at least tolerance from higher up the chain. It being a government job might change the calculus somewhat, but I wouldn't bet on it either.

So, while I wish your friend luck in their pursuit, I think that ultimately, they're going to be happier overall if they look for a job where they don't have to work with racist, homophobic, misogynistic bigots, and I would encourage them to look for a job elsewhere. A lawyer might be able to extract the pound of flesh from this situation, but I'd try to already be in a new job if that's something your friend wants to do, so that you don't have to deal with the fallout from coworkers directly while things are proceeding.
posted by Aleyn at 5:52 PM on January 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

From what you have described, I think your friend should find work elsewhere as soon as possible. It sounds like a city job, maybe he could apply for a transfer somewhere else?

I'm familiar with the kind of environment you're describing. These people are extremely unlikely to change. This kind of group sounds like the "code of silence" type: if someone seriously hurts or even kills your friend, the others won't say a word, nor will the manager. Trade work can be physically dangerous: electricity and water, heavy things that can crush you, traffic whizing by, dangerous tools. The kind of people you are describing know how to make "accidents" happen. This is a real thing, not just in the movies.

The vast majority of people I've worked with have been good people, but I have also encountered the type you've described. A slap on the wrist won-t change them. Getting them fired won't change how they think, it'll just cause them to retaliate against your friend. The management and higher-ups know, they just don't care.

A person can make a great living doing blue collar work, your friend just ended up in a crew made up of rotten people. I would encourage him to walk away from this toxic situation and seek out a team he'd be proud to he a part of.
posted by ethical_caligula at 7:36 PM on January 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

He should get another job but why? And it depends on his feeling for how dangerous these guys are and his partners tolerance for risk.

The legal solution is:
1. he talks to the manager and says "fix this, I am not fighting these assholes" oh and by the way I've been documenting all of this.
1a he goes home and he documents this conversation and what led up to it IN AN EMAIL he sends to you or to his partner or the ACLU or whoever. But it's dated and time stamped.
1b. He documents EVERYTHING going forward in the same way. Names, dates, quotes-- all of it. WRITE IT DOWN.
2. If the managers fail to fix it he goes to HR or his department head emails in hand. Literally, print them out and turn them over.
3. The guy in the reserves? Send it all to his CO after he gets a new job.
4. If anyone lays a hand on him or gets in his face or threatens him he calls the cops right then and there. Don't let management handle it. Call the cops.
5. If that fails, he sues the city for millions and retires
posted by fshgrl at 9:21 PM on January 22, 2018

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