What If You Found Out Your Boss Was Donald Sterling?

Survey looks at how workers respond to a racist boss


Unless you've been trapped in an elevator with Beyonce's sister, you've heard about the scandal surrounding Donald Sterling, the owner of the L.A. Clippers. (Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is buying the team for $2 billion.) The racist comments Sterling made in a private conversation with a girlfriend were more than shocking gossip; they raised serious questions about Sterling's ability to create a healthy work environment for the Clippers team and employees.

A company's leader sets the tone for the workplace; attitude and behaviors trickle down from the executive suite. If that leader is setting the tone, and that tone is racist, then the entire company may be negatively affected.

What would you do in such a toxic situation? Research company Veraquest recently asked 1,500 Americans just that -- what they would do if they were employed at a company and heard their boss make racist remarks? A number of intriguing findings emerged:

  • The study reveals that Hispanic (24%) and Black/African-American (28%) employees are much more likely than Caucasian (15%) employees to quit their jobs after overhearing a racist remark from their boss.
  • Conversely, Caucasian (21%) employees are more likely than Hispanics (10%) and Black/African-Americans (7%) to say they would "do nothing".
  • The top anticipated action among all three of the major U.S. ethnic groups is to report this type of situation to HR or a higher-level manager (46%-51%).
  • Younger employees are far more likely than older employees to quit after overhearing their boss's racist remarks (31% of 18-29 year olds and 28% of 30-39 year olds say they would quit, compared to only 13% of 40-49, 10% of 50-64, and 13% of 65+ year olds).
  • The good news: The vast majority of Americans (83%) would do something if they overheard their boss make racist remarks, instead of ignoring it.

What can employees do if they work for a "Donald Sterling?"

Most of us applaud the swift and decisive action taken by the NBA even if the latest bizarre twist has Donald Sterling declaring non-compliance. Unfortunately, few organizations when faced with racism, sexism or other discriminatory behavior, respond with such clarity. Due to our often vague employment laws, companies are more likely to try to sweep the situation under the rug. This is why the media frenzy over Donald Sterling's behavior may actually be of value to workers. When racist attitudes are exposed in such a public way, it puts everyone on notice: This is not okay. Speak up!

Christina did exactly that when she overheard one of her supervisors chatting with colleagues after they lost a company softball game: "We got too many white guys. Anyone know some black ringers?" She immediately filed a report with Human Resources. She also freshened up her resume.

Marcus wanted to quit his job after repeatedly being excluded from business-related social events. It was evident that deals were being closed and client relationships forged on the golf course and private clubs. The only members of the staff consistently not invited were Marcus and James, an Hispanic business development manager. But when Marcus contacted an employment attorney, he learned that his company's actions probably did not rise to the "outrageous conduct" necessary to successfully pursue legal action. The attorney suggested he give his employer notice of the unpleasant working conditions, and give them a chance to correct it.

To Marcus' surprise, his boss acted quickly to remedy the situation and thanked Marcus profusely. He had been unaware of the discriminatory pattern of the business socializing, which had largely been triggered by one opinionated (now former) manager. The boss had assumed Marcus wasn't interested in attending the events, not that he had been excluded.

"...the overall cost of employee turnover due to various forms of workplace discrimination is about $64 billion per year."

If employee unhappiness is (sadly) not enough to motivate businesses,there are real economic consequences for workplace discrimination. According to a 2013 study conducted by the U.S. Congress, the economic effects may include decreased employee productivity, a high turnover rate, and even lower profits.

Have you experienced a "Donald Sterling" in your workplace?

Veraquest Research chart.

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Racism and prejudice are facts of life. It have always been there and will always be there. Exploitation of the "racism" issue have been a weapon in black hands to gain privileges and rights denied to others. I have prejudices like everybody else, that does not make me better or worse as a human being. It is just a human trait. Where is freedom of speech? If you act on that prejudice that is something different but just feeling it, is just human. Why, blacks in LA can wear t-shirts that reads " Black Power" and it is very suspicious to wear one that reads "White Power? This country, lately, is affected by double standards, of course benefiting the blacks, why? they are a sector of the population, that yes was mistreated in the past, like all blacks in America and the Caribeean. Why whites in this country have to be guilty about that? Why blacks have to cash in something that happened in the past? I don't see that happening in any other country and they all had slaves.

June 06 2014 at 9:43 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I suppose I would fall into the "do nothing" category. After all, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. If I hear someone speak about how much they hate cats, should I, as one who likes cats, speak up? What is someone says they think Fords are piecies of crap? Should I, as a Ford owner, speak up? Now it would be a different story if I found out someone was going around randomly killing the cats or destroying the Fords, but to just say they do not like them and do not want to be around them? What is happening to our free society and our freedom of speech when you cannot openly mention that you dislike or disapprove of something or someone? When I look around at many of those that scream racism or bigotry the most, it seems they are the biggest racist and bigots. But because they are the minority or the special interest group, they are allowed to speak out whereas others are condemned. To condemn those that openly speak their minds, whether it be due to religious beliefs or even just personal preference, is nothing more than doing the exact same thing as they do, but in reverse. What bothers me about this whole situation with Sterling is, what he said was in a private conversation. He did not go out on national t.v. and broadcast it openly to the rest of the world. So now we can condemn others that speak their minds in private. I don't think anyone would have a problem with Sterling and his behavior if this had not been publically announced. Has his behavior in the past ever indicated that he was racist? As I said, actions or deeds are totally different than opinions or preferences. I react to the things that people do, not to the things they think or say. Sticks and stones.........

June 02 2014 at 7:20 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

So much ignorance and not enough life experience on this site. Get out and volunteer, where you will make friends of all walks of life. So sorry for the anger and hate about this subject.

June 02 2014 at 7:17 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Some well-known racists; Sharpton, Jackson, Farrakhan. Are they bosses?

June 02 2014 at 4:27 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Allers Dracul

Hispanics can be white as well. A Hispanic is anyone who speaks Spanish Natively, including Spanish people who are CAUCASIAN. Hispanics from South America are also different races, there are whites (Caucasian), mestizos, native americans, mulattos, and blacks. So there is no such thing as racism to hispanics as it is not a race

June 02 2014 at 1:36 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

AOL is trying its best to cause trouble with articles such as this one. Way to go Arianna!

June 01 2014 at 11:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What if your boss is black and is racist? Stories about racism are always about white racists and never ever about black racists.

June 01 2014 at 11:50 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to micheileisnasty's comment

That is not true at all. It does go both ways.

June 02 2014 at 2:35 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Most people in this country would rather live in neighborhoods of the same race. Most of our friends are the same color. Most whites have a different idea of clothing styles, car styles and music. Because you prefer the company of your own color does not make you a racist. It is when you deprive another of the same rights as you, then you are a racist!

June 01 2014 at 9:31 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
4 replies to mikelookup's comment

Many blacks hate Hispanics and Asians as well as whites. Yet you never hear or read stories in the liberal press about black racism..

June 01 2014 at 9:01 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to elaineen's comment

I believe most men don't mind mixing and mingling with women of other races and the women except it as well , the problem is the envy of men of all races against each other for reasons of indifference in cultural ways of being , but no men mind when the woman cultural ways passes through a bi-racial relationship !!!

June 01 2014 at 10:55 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

A yes the "liberal press". Might you be a racist elaineen?

June 02 2014 at 2:36 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I would promptly quit my job if my boss said his mother was a typical white person.

June 01 2014 at 8:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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