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FAU employee reprimanded for hostile work environment: Part I

A parking enforcement officer at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) in nearby Boca Raton was recently reprimanded by the University for creating a hostile work environment. The incident for which he was reprimanded involved his decision to display a racially-charged photograph and what appeared to be a hangman's noose in his office.

Employees or employers who create a hostile work environment often have a history of subtle offenses before they are finally called to task for their actions. We will discuss this incident as a two-part post this week, as well as examining other events which may have led the man's coworkers to feel uncomfortable in the past.

The parking enforcement officer has been the office supervisor in his division at FAU for three years. Prior to that time, he served 23 years with the Boca Raton Police Department.

According to reports, he prominently displayed a news photo of himself from 1991 when he was still a police officer. The photo shows the man in riot gear at a 1991 rally for the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). He is seen escorting members of the Fraternal White Knights of the KKK.

Several coworkers complained that the parking enforcement officer would call them into his office to show off the picture, which he accompanied with statements such as: "Look, I marched with the Klan."

Complaints against him also say that he displayed what looks like a hangman's noose in his office as well. Though the "noose" is actually a rope knot used in his work duties, coworkers say he presented it as though it were a hangman's noose. When asked why it was in his office, the man allegedly told coworkers: "just in case."

While several coworkers were apparently uncomfortable with his actions, it was one female employee who finally issued a formal complaint against him. The man tried to appeal the reprimand but was unsuccessful. He has been ordered to attend cultural sensitivity training.

Check back later this week as we discuss more about this incident, as well as the history that led up to it.

Source: University Press online, "Tension: Photo and noose create 'hostile work environment' at FAU," Sergio N. Candido, 11 April 2011

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