Death Threats Against Pro-Obama Worker Could Be Racially Motivated

July 26, 2013

Unfortunately, a significant amount of racism surfaced during President Obama’s first campaign, as well as his second campaign against Mitt Romney. In a particularly offensive race harassment case, an Ohio worker suffered numerous hostile actions at work as the result of wearing a pro-Obama shirt.

In Paasewe v. Action Group, Inc., an Ohio employee of African descent – Eric Paasewe - was subjected to numerous racially offensive actions. The offensive behavior included:

• A co-worker telling Paasewe that the car he drove was too expensive for a black man earning $10 an hour;
• A co-worker questioning Paasewe about what work he did outside of his job to be able to afford such an expensive vehicle, including questions about “who he really is” and his “true identity;”
• Enduring false accusations of sexually harassing a white female co-worker—which he said ruined his reputation—before later retracting the accusation; and
• A co-worker calling Paasewe “boy” after seeing him wearing a pro-Obama t-shirt and warning him not to wear the shirt again, saying he would kill both Paasewe and Obama if Obama were elected, and saying Paasewe should take Obama back to Africa to vote for him.

Further despite going to management to complain about the threat, the company only issued a verbal warning to the co-worker. The company failed to take any further disciplinary action.

Title VII prohibits race discrimination or race harassment because of your race or color. Sometimes, race discrimination may not involve official company practices, but rather involve racial harassment, such as the use of derogatory racial jokes by co-employees without knowledge of company management. Whether it is an official company policy, or harassment by co-employees, you may not be subjected to adverse action, including harassment, because of your race or color. If you believe that you have been subjected to harassing behavior, it’s important to consult with an experienced Georgia race discrimination law firm right away.

Here, after the company the company issued a policy banning political paraphernalia from the workplace following the initial incident with Paasewe’s Obama t-shirt, the HR director brought in pins and flyers supporting John McCain for president. When Paasewe complained, both the HR director and president warned him to stay out of the company's business if he wanted to keep his job, with the president allegedly adding: “[L]et me tell you something boy. … [Y]ou don't know what I am capable of doing to anyone who tr[ies] to destroy my company.”

Paasewe ultimately was discharged after sustaining an on-the-job back injury in early December 2008. Although he attempted to return to work 11 days later, the HR director told him he could not do so because he was under “some kind of investigation.”

The court determined that the actions taken against Paasewe, including the Obama comments, could be considered racially motivated rather than politically motivated. The court noted: “The [co-worker's] use of the term ‘boy' in reference to Paasewe and in context of his racially-charged statements about Obama are sufficient evidence to permit a reasonable jury to conclude that [the co-worker’s] conduct was race-based.”

For more information about race discrimination, or if you believe you have suffered race discrimination or harassment at work, please contact the top Atlanta race discrimination lawyers at The Buckley Law Firm, LLC for an immediate consultation.