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Harassed at work? Reported it to HR? What are your options now?

Sarah was excited to start her new job. Fresh out of UT, accounting degree in hand, she had been heavily recruited and was excited to land at a top firm. Her new job seemed interesting and the culture seemed open and welcoming.

But Sarah was surprised when the staff--who seemed so friendly when she was interviewed--kept largely to themselves. While other women were asked to lunch by female co-workers, Sarah was summarily dismissed. Sarah figured it would just take time to break into the group. In the meantime, she had made friends with a man named Joe who was friendly and gregarious.

Not one to sit back

Not long into her job, Sarah was in the restroom when she heard a comment that was clearly about her. One of the women was speaking about "the token minority." The woman, however, did not use the word minority, but used an epithet instead.

Shocked, Sarah went to Joe to talk about the situation. Joe confirmed that the company routinely hired a person of color, who generally never stayed but a few months--driven out by a culture that included racially offensive emails, comments, and circulated cartoons.

Sarah had never been one to ignore racial issues. Raised in Chicago, she had worked hard to get through school and into the University that was top in her field. Sarah decided to calmly, but firmly, address the situation with HR. A representative took notes, including the back-story Joe had given Sarah. The woman seemed concerned. Within a week, however, Sarah was terminated from her job.

Can they do that?

Racial discrimination and harassment is illegal. Sarah's company had a clear and insidious pattern of it. Before Sarah, each employee seemed content to walk away; Sarah, however, was not. Now that she has lost her job, however, what recourse does she have?

Whistleblowers--those who report illegal behavior, including that cited above, have legal protection for their jobs. They may not be retaliated against for identifying and reporting discrimination or harassment. Sarah has potential discrimination and retaliation claims.

Where can she go from here?

What should Sarah do? Contacting an employment lawyer is a good idea. Like any civil case, there is a statute of limitations for filing. If Sarah misses the deadline, she will have no options for financial damages or job reinstatement.

The lawyer will help her file a complaint with both the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Texas Workforce Commission. An employment attorney can also help Sarah compile a list of the racial harassment she experienced, and perhaps locate previous employees who had also been racially harassed at her job.

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