Sears employee wins $5.2 million jury award for racial harassment
This halloween season Ohio University’s Students Teaching About Racism in Society produced a series of posters about racially insensitive halloween costumes. It was the comments around these posters included a large dose of what I label racial sociopathy, the inability to experience empathy for a person of another race or ethnicity. These responses are usually couched in white whining strategies of “free speech” or “you’re too sensitive” or “das racist” and the ever popular “(insert race/ethnicity) dress like whites too!” There is no understanding of the historical context of how this costuming was used to support white supremacy and the fact that these insulting characters emotionally insult and maim people of color.
Medro Johnson did not take this type of assault sitting down. The African American employee of Sears Home Improvement Products in Natomas was at an August 2008 company barbecue with his family, court records say. A co-worker walked up and blurted a racial slur, issued with a “slave dialect.”Medro calls me Masta,” co-worker Paul St. Hilaire said, according to court records.
In less than eight hours of deliberation, a Sacramento Superior Court jury gave Johnson the last laugh.The panel awarded him $5.2 million in damages, including $2.2 million to compensate for lost earnings, pain and suffering.The other $3 million was for punitive damages, an award granted after the jury found that Sears’ policymakers and managers conducted themselves “with malice, oppression or fraud” for failing to investigate or to act on Johnson’s complaints about the slur and other racist acts.
The motivation for ignoring the problem?Christopher Whelan, Johnson’s attorney in the race harassment-retaliation case, said the evidence showed the company did not want to take action against St. Hilaire, one of its top sales producers nationally.”The message for Sears is that it just can’t ignore the law, no matter how much money the harasser earns for them,” said Whelan. “They subjected Medro to very serious risks and fear of retaliation. Let this case serve as a warning, you have the right to your free speech but it is not without consequences. I hope that more anti-black racists can learn that “our oversensitivity” could cost you big time.