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Racially Hostile Work Environment is Bananas. Literally.

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By Robyn Hagan Cain on June 15, 2012 4:15 PM

An Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled this week that banana peels on an employee's truck can form the basis of an employment discrimination lawsuit.

Cue Gwen Stefani's "Hollaback Girl," because this case is about to get bananas. (B-A-N-A-N-A-S.)

Reginald Jones, who is African-American, sued his former employer, UPS Ground Freight, Inc., (UPSF) alleging that he had been subjected to a racially hostile work environment.

At some point after Jones’ driver training period ended, he began to find remnants of bananas, such as banana peels and bananas that had been broken in half, on his delivery truck at the UPSF Trussville terminal where he occasionally parked his delivery truck. The bananas were always located in one of two places: either on the back of the truck’s flat-bed trailer or on the steps up into the cab. Jones never saw bananas on any other truck, nor is there any evidence that he found other refuse on his truck.

(Side Bar: Seriously. What kind of person does something like this?)

The bananas, coupled with racially-insensitive statements from Jones’ former driving trainer, perceived threats, and the number of employees who wore Confederate-flag apparel at the Trussville terminal, led Jones to believe that he was the target of a racially-discriminatory bananagram.

The Eleventh Circuit panel, made up of Judges Edward Carnes and William Pryor Jr., and Seventh Circuit Senior Judge Kenneth Ripple (sitting by designation), unanimously ruled that Jones should be allowed to make his case that the bananas were being used to send a message and create a racially hostile work environment. In the opinion, Judge Ripple noted that, “Unfortunately, some people do use bananas to communicate racial slurs.”

This isn’t the first time this year that Judges Carnes and Pryor have green-lit an employment discrimination claim based on cumulative evidence of racism. As Alyson Palmer notes in the Daily Report, Judges Carnes and Pryor also gave the go-ahead in January for a racial discrimination lawsuit against Tyson Foods. In that case, Ash v. Tyson Foods, the Eleventh Circuit ruled that “boy,” in the context of cumulative evidence, can be a racial epithet.

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