Legal Update and How You Can Help
On January 6, my lawyers filed a complaint initiating a case with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. Thomson Reuters replied with a 60 page “Position Statement” printed and delivered to my door. They did not provide an electronic version, so I won’t be posting their Position Statement here.
However, my lawyers recently filed a response to their Position Statement, which addresses each of their claims, and I invite everyone to read it.
An “investigative conference” has been scheduled by the commission for July.
Importance of This Case
This case is one of a number of cases trying to establish, broadly speaking, that there are limits to what employers can do in the name of “anti-racism.” Can employers encourage distribution of racially charged “anti-racism” materials exhorting employees to adopt ideologies about “white privilege”, “white fragility”, the problems of “whiteness”, and “How to Be a Better White Person”? Or, alternatively, does distributing such materials in the workplace create a racially hostile work environment, and possibly even encourage racialized bullying?
While my case is primarily about retaliation against someone who complained about a workplace permeated with such materials and the racialized bullying it encouraged, it also touches on the question of whether these materials legally created a racially hostile environment in their own right.
I believe that my experience makes a compelling test case for these questions for a number of reasons.
There is extensive documentation of these sorts of derogatory materials and statements permeating the workplace at Thomson Reuters via the online collaboration forum called The Hub.
There are clearly documented instances of overt racialized bullying and personal attacks, showing how those materials created an atmosphere which encouraged employees to violate norms of professional decorum.
When I complained about the racialized bullying and how it had prevented discussion of falsehoods in Reuters’ news reporting, I was immediately punished with complete censorship and prohibition on any further expression of my concerns. No support was offered by the company.
Human Resources actually called me, and stated outright, that if I used any company communication channels to make further complaints about the racialized bullying I would be disciplined, including termination.
My employment record was pristine, I’d been working there for six years, I’d recently received a huge promotion, and I’d never had a negative job review.
When the company fired me by email they conspicuously omitted any mention whatsoever of any sort of legitimate, performance based reason for my firing, stating only that “The manner in which you’ve conducted yourself in recent weeks does not align with our expectations for you as a leader within Thomson Reuters.” The conduct they are referring to is attempting to raise concerns about these issues.
Because the facts in this case are so well documented, I believe this makes a good test case for whether the law will be interpreted to protect all people, regardless of race.
Finally, there is an aspect of my case that, while not technically relevant to my legal claims, I believe nevertheless demonstrates the social importance of getting the law right. This racialized workplace bullying was not merely harmful to me and my coworkers. It also effectively prevented rectification of misleading reporting by Thomson Reuters that had contributed, and was continuing to contribute, to the murders of thousands of black Americans. In companies that play an important societal role, these internal failures are not just a threat to their employees, but also to the people who depend on the companies’ services.
This case and others like it are really the first wave of cases addressing these questions. Thus, they are deeply important to the future legal landscape of employment law. The outcome of cases like these will end up shaping the work environment for millions of people. Will employees routinely be labeled “racist” and subject to indoctrination with what are, in fact, offensive and racist ideologies? Will the workplace be suffused with derogatory statements about people who do not subscribe to these ideologies and about their thoughts and feelings? Will public shaming and firing await anyone who speaks out against all this?
This is an emerging area of the law. Given the current state of the law, protection for “white” people (regardless of whether they consider themselves “white”) who object to this sort of derogatory racial propaganda in the workplace is considered a novel legal theory and one that has not been heavily tested. For that reason, there is no guarantee that I will be able to recoup any of my legal expenses.
Part of the challenge is that because these cases are so uncertain, few people can afford to risk bringing them. This is especially true in cases where people have been fired from their jobs and lost their income. For example, I’ve already spent more than $20,000 on the mandatory MCAD process, which the law requires before even filing a lawsuit. The actual lawsuit could cost hundreds of thousands more. And yet, if nobody brings these cases the law will not evolve to recognize this problem.
It’s my hope that legal cases like mine will help define and clarify the law for the public. If courts choose to interpret the law such that it protects the rights of only certain racial groups, these cases will reveal those inconsistencies to the public. In the long run, our democracy vests authority over the courts and legislatures that together define the law in “we the people”. The law will adapt to protect all people if we make our voices heard. Whether we do is up to us.
How you can help
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