Diving Brief:

  • An employee of a Georgia branch of Republic Services recently filed a discrimination complaint against the company with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). According to the complaint obtained by HR Dive – and an interview with the employee’s lawyer, Tamara Holder – the employee, a black woman, operations manager, was regularly presented by the company as a face of diversity, while experiencing racial discrimination in the workplace.
  • The employee described receiving assurances that she would be promoted, only to be told that despite being “clearly the most qualified for the job”, the company “wanted to go in a different direction”, which turned out to be a “white man with far less experience.” The employee also described hearing racist remarks and then being fired after complaining. The worker alleged retaliation in addition to racial discrimination.
  • “While we don’t typically comment on pending legal issues, Republic Services has a long and proven commitment to maintaining a strong culture of inclusion and diversity,” said Republic in a statement provided to HR Dive.

Overview of the dive:

For those engaged in diversity, equity and inclusion work, one of the primary goals is to ensure that public proclamations translate into meaningful progress behind the scenes. Holder said his client’s claim is an example of a failure to take such work seriously.

“What I’m determined to show is that now it creates another level of accountability beyond just discrimination,” Holder said in a recent interview. “These companies engage in negligent conduct…they pretend to be something they are not.”

According to the complaint, the employee received recognition for her good work prior to her termination, including a Manager of the Year award and several excellent performance reviews. She was one of 6 black employees selected from the company’s roughly 50,000 workers to attend the McKinsey Black Leadership Academy’s management accelerator program, the complaint says.

She was also “paraded” as a face of diversity, Holder said. Republic asked her to write a letter defending the company when a Teamsters chapter vice president called her a “plantation owner.” Republic posted the letter throughout the workplace, according to the complaint.

Despite these accolades and assurances that she would be promoted, the worker was passed over for a less qualified white employee, according to the complaint. He cited two examples of other female workers of color who were also passed over for “less qualified men.” The employee also complained of racist language in the workplace, including a colleague calling black drivers “dem boys,” among other racist comments.

In filing a complaint, the employee followed the procedures outlined in a flowchart, Holder said, and “did everything she was supposed to do.” She used the employer’s “AWARE line,” added Holder, who Republic describes as a free employee hotline that “is available to all employees to raise concerns if they are not comfortable speaking directly with their supervisors or any other member of management or wish to remain anonymous”.

“They investigated her instead of her complaints,” Holder said. The employee was fired about a month later over what Republic called “irreconcilable differences.”

While Holder and his client wait for the EEOC to investigate, they intend to pursue the case if the agency refuses to collect it. “We’re going to press charges,” Holder said. “We don’t rely on the EEOC.”