TRENTON – State Division on Civil Rights Director Chinh Q. Le announced Wednesday that his office has issued a finding of probable cause against the owner of an electrical contracting firm accused of subjecting a minority employee to slurs and creating a hostile work environment that led to her resignation.
Named as respondents in the document are Dane Construction of New Brunswick and company owner Pat Buckley. They are accused of subjecting former Dane Construction employee Shi-Juan Lin to racial slurs on multiple occasions, and of constructive discharge for causing Lin to quit her job rather than continue to suffer an alleged hostile work environment.
Lin, of Carteret, was hired as a bookkeeper and secretary by Dane Construction in February 2008. Her employer was aware of her Asian heritage and, through office conversation, also knew that Lin’s fiancé was African-American, and that the couple had a five-year-old son together.
Despite that awareness, the finding of probable cause notes, state investigators found sufficient evidence that Lin was subjected to unlawful workplace discrimination in the form of slurs aimed at African-Americans and, on at least one occasion, a remark directed at her that was both racially discriminatory and sexually harassing. The finding of probable cause notes that Lin approached both Buckley and his office manager with her objections to the remarks, but to no avail.
“The conduct charged in this case is troubling. There simply is no room for it in any workplace,” said Le. “Employers have a duty to set an example by showing respect for the rights and dignity of all employees, and by making clear they will tolerate nothing less from their workers. Employers also have a duty to stop discriminatory treatment when it is brought to their attention.”
A finding of probable cause does not resolve a civil rights complaint. Rather, it means the state has concluded its preliminary investigation and determined there is sufficient evidence to support a reasonable suspicion the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination has been violated.
According to the finding of probable cause, Buckley has denied using racial slurs frequently, but acknowledged using a slur on at least one occasion within earshot of Lin. Buckley told state investigators he once argued over the phone with an individual he believed to be of Jamaican ethnicity, and afterward used a slur to refer to the man while in his office. Buckley told investigators he may have uttered the slur a second time while continuing to “rant” about the incident near Lin’s work station. Although he described it as an isolated incident, Buckley also admitted that he may have used racial slurs in “personal conversations” around the office.
Lin worked at Dane Construction until June 13, 2008, when she resigned without another job in place. She told investigators she could no longer stand the hostile work environment, which was not confined solely to racist remarks. She described one occasion in which her employer commented appreciatively on the way her jeans looked with respect to a particular part of her “oriental” anatomy. Buckley denied making the remark, which he attributed to an unidentified construction employee who may not have understood the comment was inappropriate. However, the office manager at Dane Construction acknowledged that Lin subsequently complained about the remark, and that no action was taken in response to her complaint.
Investigation of the Dane Construction matter was conducted by Division on Civil Rights Investigator Agnes Roncaglio and supervised by Atley Tyler, manager of the division’s Newark office. Staff attorney Estelle Bronstein provided assistance in preparing the finding of probable cause.
The Law Against Discrimination provides that each respondent found to have committed a violation is subject to a penalty of up to $10,000, provided he or she has not been convicted of a previous violation within the past five years. The law also provides for other remedies, including compensatory damages and injunctive relief, such as changes in the employer’s policies and management/staff training.
Now that the division has issued a finding of probable cause, the case will be referred for a process known as conciliation. If it is not successful, the matter will be referred to an administrative law judge for a hearing on the merits, which is a non-jury trial. The administrative law judge will then issue a written initial decision.
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