Friday, August 10, 2001

Court: Slurs did not void union vote

By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A federal appeals court chastised a Cleveland company and a labor union Thursday for failing to condemn the frequent use of racial slurs and other offensive language in the workplace.

        But the court ruled that the use of those slurs did not taint the outcome of a union election, as the company had claimed.

        The case, decided by the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, is among the first to address the casual use of racial slurs in the workplace.

        The issue arose in 1997 when employees at the Foundry division of Alcon Industries Inc. in Cleveland voted to join a labor union.

        The company challenged the results, arguing that the use of offensive language was evidence of a “hostile work environment.”

        That hostile environment, the company argued, made it impossible to hold a fair union election.

        But the National Labor Relations Board argued that the union vote should stand. The appeals court agreed.

        “(The slurs) did not create conditions under which it is impossible to determine the uninhibited desires of the employees in the election,” wrote Judge Nathaniel Jones, who wrote the appeals court decision.

        Testimony in the case indicated that the use of slurs and other offensive language was common at the company.

        Judge Jones said in his ruling that the use of the slurs created a poor work environment, but he found that the language was not specifically intended to persuade employees to vote for or against the union.


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