During the deposition, I asked this human resources professional whether she was aware of the racism and segregation dividing the communities surrounding her company’s facility, from where her company hires many of its employees. Prepared by the company’s counsel, she denied any awareness of the racism endemic there – the kind of testimony that provokes raised eyebrows or poker faces, depending on the side you are on.
When I followed by asking her to identify the methods by which her company satisfies its legal obligation to insulate its workplace from any such discrimination, she could – perhaps not surprisingly – state none. She would only attest to maintaining hope, however implausible, that her company’s workplace nonetheless remained discrimination free. Any racial animus in the communities from where her employees came to work somehow never made it past the company’s gate.
We have learned from this year’s presidential election of a shameful surge of neo-Nazism and white supremacy in our communities, self-sanitized by the moniker “alt-right.” We watched the presumptive electoral victor ride an invigorated white supremacist movement to his apparent win. And we now watch him fill cabinet positions with individuals brazenly supportive of white supremacist values.
I wonder how that Human Resources Manager would respond to my line of questions today. I wonder if the old, white, male judge would find her testimony less credible today, or if he would at least defer to a jury of people from some of the neighborhoods at issue. And I am left still to wonder how a jury would find her testimony – then or now.
Employers and employees comprise some of our best defenses against this resurgence of white supremacy in America. Because our communities and schools remain so grossly segregated, our workplaces are often the only spaces where persons of different colors, nationalities, religions and abilities find themselves within sight or earshot of one another, for any significant purpose or amount of time.
Surely today no human resources professional could plausibly deny awareness of racism, segregation or bigotry pervading the communities surrounding a workplace. And surely employers are putting in place or bolstering safeguards to ensure that their workplaces are secure from animus harbored in the individuals they hire from those communities. Surely our judges can no longer summarily reject the truth potential of allegations of workplace discrimination, or at least now have sufficient humility to leave such determinations to American jurors, who know better the cultural conditions of their communities.
If not, they surely should – if only because the law requires as much.