Employees often hang whimsical pictures on workplace walls to spruce up the decor and boost morale. But sometimes those pictures can profoundly upset morale. For example, if the pictures happen to include: a dollar bill with George Washington colored in black with a noose around his neck; and swastikas and a KKK hood, next to a photo of Gary Coleman, the late child star of "Diff'rent Strokes."
Dion Miller was the kitchen supervisor at Sparx Restaurant in Menomonie, Wis. He is black and didn't like the pictures taped up to the cooler, according to his complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. So he explained that to the burger joint's managers, who allegedly replied that it was all just a joke. Three weeks later, Miller was fired for "a bad attitude," reports Minnesota's Star Tribune newspaper.
The EEOC filed a lawsuit against the restaurant this week. It alleges that Miller was fired in retaliation for his complaint about the racist atmosphere created by the images. It's seeking back pay and job reinstatement, as well as compensatory and punitive damages.
Retaliation was the most common charge brought to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last year, making up 37 percent of all the complaints.
"Sparx bills itself as a 'family restaurant' even as its managers posted imagery which evokes shameful memories of racially motivated physical attacks and lynchings," John Hendrickson, a Chicago attorney with the EEOC, said in a statement.
Perhaps the Sparx staff should just sit down and watch a few episodes of Coleman (pictured above) in "Diff'rent Strokes." Its messages of racial tolerance and class unity are still valuable today.
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