LITIGATION VALUE: $300,000+
Thank god for damage caps. No matter how well intentioned, throwing a “welcome back” party for your Mexican-American employee by decorating the break room with piñatas, paper sombreros and streamers in the colors of the Mexican flag is not a good idea. Ever. Under no set of circumstances. Sure, Michael (and the party planning committee) meant well, but that is not going to be enough to get Dunder Mifflin out of this one.
The message that Michael’s party sends to Oscar (and to the other employees) is that Oscar is first and foremost Hispanic. Sure, the issue was exaggerated. Come on. It is a sitcom – it has to be exaggerated. In the real world, bias is much more subtle: the manager who does not assign the female employee to attend a conference in another city because he thinks it may interfere with her family duties; assigning black employees to traditionally “black” areas of town; or the unknowing remarks based on ethnic stereotypes. Indeed, in many of the cases that I defend, I see managers and employees who make joking references to pop culture without ever knowing that the reference plays on a negative ethnic (or gender) stereotype. I’m not saying employers should unnaturally sterilize the workplace, I just think that employees, and especially managers, should be aware of how their comments may be perceived by others. And employers should have the necessary training in place to make sure their employees can recognize the red flags when they see them.
Don’t get me wrong. I think having a party to welcome back Oscar was a lovely idea. I just wouldn’t have served the chimichangas.