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Does "MAGA" Attire at Work Create Racially Hostile Environment?

    Client Alerts
  • March 18, 2022

Recently, a client received an EEOC charge that among other claims, alleged that a manager’s discussions of support for former President Trump’s campaign constituted evidence of a hostile work environment based on race. Earlier this week, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals avoided addressing claims from an African-American employee that co-workers wearing “MAGA” apparel contributed to a hostile work environment based on race.

Do political discussions or displays of support serve as evidence of racial harassment, especially if they are accompanied by direct proof of racial animus? In the recent case, Paschall v. Tube Processing Corp., the court affirmed dismissal of the hostile environment race discrimination claim on the basis that the plaintiff never reported the alleged conduct to management. The court never reached the question of whether the alleged conduct reached the bar for racial harassment claims.

With that said, it is hard to imagine that the EEOC or federal courts would consider a co-worker’s political leanings alone to constitute evidence of race discrimination. The more difficult questions arise when the political expressions are accompanied by claims of use of racial epithets or other racist behavior. Even in these situations, courts and federal agencies may shy away from concluding that the political behavior can be used as evidence of race discrimination. Regardless, many employers limit discussion of politically controversial topics at work, in the hope that they can avoid these difficult situations in the first place.