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Wal-Mart settles lawsuit alleging employee ethnic harassment

Wal-Mart is the world's largest retailer with over 250 stores in Florida alone. According to their website, they employ nearly 93,000 Florida residents in positions at Wal-Mart, Sam's Club and related distribution centers.

Sam's Club, one of Wal-Mart's wholesale chain stores, has agreed to pay $440,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The lawsuit is in regards to several employees of Mexican descent who endured ethnic discrimination and verbal harassment while working at a store in Fresno, CA.

According to the lawsuit, at least nine Sam's Club employees of Mexican descent endured racial slurs from a co-worker. The EEOC reports that this employee often made insulting remarks about Mexicans, including statements implying that Mexicans were only good for cleaning his house. Oddly, the co-worker who made the harassing remarks is himself Mexican American.

The incidents took place several years ago, and a spokesman for Wal-Mart Inc. said that the man was fired for his behavior. Nonetheless, it is important that the EEOC made an example of Wal-Mart to show that this behavior cannot be tolerated in the workplace.

When the world's largest retailer has an employee dispute anywhere, the manner in which it is handled will likely affect workers here in South Florida as well. And because Florida has such ethnic and racial diversity, a similar situation could easily erupt here in the future.

After settling this lawsuit, Wal-Mart will likely turn its attention back to an even bigger problem. The company is currently trying to block the largest class-action gender-discrimination lawsuit in history. Female employees are seeking billions of dollars and the case is being heard by the US Supreme Court.

Source: Reuters, "Wal-Mart settles ethnic harassment suit," Paritosh Bansal and Jessica Wohl, 14 April 2011

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