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Coronavirus, Asian American Employees and Race Discrimination in New Jersey

One need not be a “psychic” to have seen it coming. The particulars of the coronavirus were something that clearly lent itself to triggering race discrimination and harassment. The state government even took proactive steps to warn employers to avoid such discrimination and harassment in their workplaces. However, as is too often the case, not even warnings from the Attorney General will stop harassment from occurring at some workplaces. Whether coronavirus-related or not, if you’ve suffered workplace discrimination because of your race, you should contact a knowledgeable New Jersey race discrimination attorney and discuss your legal options.

Back in March, as the COVID-19 pandemic was just starting to explode here in the United States, the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office issued an important guidance and press release. The guidance specifically warned against coronavirus-related harassment in the workplace targeting people of East Asian origin.

That included the importance of employers being pro-active “to stop harassment of one employee by another employee if the employer knows or should have known about it: for example, if one employee has east-Asian heritage and a coworker repeatedly harasses her by claiming that Asian people caused COVID-19 or calling this ‘the Chinese virus.’”

Now it’s fall and news sources are finding situations where, although employers were warned, some allegedly didn’t heed that warning. A report covered a situation where exactly this kind of harassment allegedly took place with no repercussions for the harasser.

During a Union County fire department’s COVID-19 training, a deputy fire chief mockingly asked T.B., an Asian American firefighter, if he had been to Wuhan recently, according to the firefighter’s complaint. The deputy chief also allegedly “squinted his eyes so that they narrowed in a racist caricature of Asian facial features,” according to the report.

The incidents took place in front at least 19 other firefighters, according to T.B. Nevertheless, the employer allegedly did not make the deputy fire chief apologize and did not discipline him in any way. That failure to discipline the chief came even after the deputy chief had allegedly “engaged in prior workplace harassment incidents” about which the employer knew or should have known.

All of that, according to T.B., amounted to the creation of a hostile work environment. The conduct of the deputy fire chief, along with the subsequent lack of disciplinary action by the employer, “created a work environment wherein firefighters now believe it is acceptable workplace behavior to openly disparage Asian Americans for their race and as being responsible for the spread of coronavirus,” the firefighter’s complaint asserted.

Much of what allegedly occurred at this fire department falls squarely within what the Attorney General warned about. Asian American employees should be free from employment discrimination and harassment related to their race, whether it is mocking their physical features, making derogatory remarks linking Asian Americans to the origins of the coronavirus, or using racially charged language (like “Chinese virus” or “Kung Flu”) in relation to coronavirus. This kind of harassment can have many negative impacts. It may make an employee feel humiliated, belittled or undermined, thereby creating a “hostile work environment.”

Whether tied to the coronavirus or not, race-based discrimination or harassment at work is wrong. If you’ve been harmed by such treatment at work, look to the experienced employment attorneys at Phillips & Associates for the legal advice and advocacy you need to get the results you deserve. Contact us online or at (609) 436-9087 today to set up a free and confidential race discrimination consultation.

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