The Exchange

Workers Sue Target for Racially Offensive Document

Three former employees are suing Target (TGT) because of an allegedly racially offensive guide provided to managers. The memo on “multi-cultural tips” was meant to note differences among Hispanic employees, such as “not everyone dances to salsa” and “not everyone wears a sombrero.”

The workers, who were employed at a warehouse distribution center, say in their complaint, which was filed in Yolo County Court in California in June, that they suffered crude harassment, discrimination and retaliation at work, according to Courthouse News.

According to the complaint, filed by the three employees, Robert Gonzalez, Bulmaro Fabian and Pedro Garcia-Ayala:

Target provided its distribution warehouse managers a document titled, ‘Organization Effectiveness, Employee and Labor Relations Multi-Cultural Tips.’ This document instructs managers to note differences among Hispanic employees, and states the following:

a. Food: not everyone eats tacos and burritos;
b. Music: not everyone dances to salsa;
c. Dress: not everyone wears a sombrero;
d. Mexicans (lower education level, some may be undocumented);
e. Cubans (Political refugees, legal status, higher education level); and
f. They may say ‘OK, OK’ and pretend to understand, when they do not, just to save face.

The suit also alleges that the plaintiffs were expected to work harder than their white counterparts and “were not given the same overtime opportunities” during their employment.

Molly Snyder, a Target spokeswoman, issued the following statement and apology: “It is never Target's intent to offend our team members or guests and we apologize. The content of the document referenced is not representative of who Target is. We strive at all times to be a place where our team and guests feel welcome, valued and respected. This document, which was used during conversations at one distribution center, was never part of any formal or company-wide training. We take accountability for its contents and are truly sorry.”

The plaintiffs also claim that nearly all management positions were held by white people who used racial slurs when addressing Hispanic workers, the lawsuit said, such as “Only a ‘wetback’ can work this hard” and “You got to be Mexican to work like this.”

Gonzalez claimed that he brought his complaint about the harassment to the Minneapolis-based retailer's human resources department, but he got no response, according to the suit. The lawsuit alleges his supervisors retaliated – one supervisor “elbowed Gonzalez in his back when [he] was eating his lunch in the break room,” and a manager “began using more racial epithets when instructing Gonzalez on his work and would purposefully throw boxes on the ground and then order Gonzalez to pick them up in an attempt to humiliate [him],” the lawsuit says.

The three workers were ultimately fired; Gonzalez was terminated in May 2011 after seven years at the company, according to the lawsuit. The plaintiffs are seeking punitive damages for harassment, failure to prevent harassment, age and race discrimination and retaliation.

The cross-cultural faux pas might put a dent in the retailer’s efforts to appeal to more Hispanic customers. Target’s CEO told Minnesota Public Radio earlier this year that it was pushing to get a piece of Hispanics’ more than $1 trillion in annual buying power.

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