- An employee of a Georgia branch of Republic Services recently filed a charge of discrimination against the company with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). According to the complaint obtained by HR Dive — and an interview with the employee's attorney, Tamara Holder — the employee, a Black, female operations manager, was showcased regularly by the company as a face of diversity, while experiencing racial discrimination in the workplace.
- The employee described receiving assurances she would be promoted, only to be told that despite being "clearly the most qualified for the role," the company "wanted to go in a different direction," which turned out to be a "white male with far less experience." The employee also described hearing racist remarks and then being fired upon complaining. The worker alleged retaliation in addition to racial discrimination.
- "While we generally do not comment on pending legal matters, Republic Services has a longstanding commitment and proven track record of maintaining a strong culture of inclusion and diversity," Republic said in a statement provided to HR Dive.
For those engaged in diversity, equity and inclusion work, a major focus is ensuring that public proclamations translate into meaningful progress behind the scenes. Holder said her client's claim is an example of a failure to take such work seriously.
"What I'm determined to show is that now this creates another layer of liability beyond just discrimination," Holder said in a recent interview. "These companies are engaging in negligent conduct … they are claiming to be something that they aren't."
According to the complaint, the employee received recognition for good work before her dismissal, including a Manager of the Year award and several excellent performance reviews. She was 1 of 6 Black employees selected from among the company's approximately 50,000 workers to participate in the McKinsey Black Leadership Academy Management Accelerator Program, the complaint noted.
She was also "paraded around" as a face of diversity, Holder said. She was asked by Republic to write a letter in defense of the company when a Teamsters chapter vice president referred to it as a "plantation owner." Republic displayed the letter throughout the workplace, the complaint said.
Despite these accolades, and assurances she would be promoted, the worker was passed over for a less qualified, White, male employee, the complaint alleged. It cited two examples of other female workers of color who also were passed over for "less-qualified males." The employee also complained of racist language in the workplace, including a co-worker referring to Black drivers as "dem boys," among other racially motived comments.
In lodging complaints, the employee followed the procedures that had been laid out in a flow chart, Holder said, and "did everything she was supposed to do." She used the employer's "AWARE line," Holder added, which Republic describes as a toll-free employee hotline that "is available for all employees to raise concerns if they are uncomfortable 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 terminated approximately one month later for what Republic cited as "irreconcilable differences."
While Holder and her client are waiting for the EEOC to investigate, they intend to follow through on the case if the agency declines to pick it up. "We will be filing suit," Holder said. "We're not relying on the EEOC."