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Ex-Target employees allege racial discrimination at warehouse

Minneapolis-based Target Corp. had a public relations nightmare on its hands recently when news media reported that managers at one of the retail giant's warehouses had circulated a memo purportedly detailing the differences between different groups of Hispanic employees. News media were also quick to report when a company spokesperson apologized for the racially insensitive memo.

Less well-reported was the reason the memo came to light in the first place. It was part of an employment discrimination lawsuit by three former employees of the warehouse who said they were repeatedly harassed and discriminated against by managers at the facility, and that managers retaliated against workers who complained about the discrimination.

The three employees, who are of Mexican descent, claimed that the facility assigned Hispanic employees only to manual labor tasks while managers were exclusively Caucasian. The three employees said managers at the warehouse routinely addressed Hispanic employees with racial slurs, calling them "wetbacks."

A Target spokesperson apologized for the memo, and said it was not approved by upper management. She also said that the memo was used only at the warehouse in question and was not distributed company-wide. However, the spokesperson declined to comment on the discrimination lawsuit.

Both Minnesota and federal laws prohibit workplace discrimination on the basis of race, national origin or ethnicity. If an employer refuses to hire or promote a worker on the basis of the worker's race, pays workers of one race less than workers of another race or otherwise segregates workers on a racial basis, it would probably constitute illegal discrimination. However, these kinds of discrimination are often hard to prove. It can be hard to gather evidence that shows that race was the motivating factor behind the action. However, if for example workers were routinely subjected to racial epithets, the employees would have evidence that the workplace was a hostile work environment.

Minnesota workers who feel they've been wrongly discriminated against at work should get help understanding the laws and their legal options. Racial discrimination has no place in the American workforce.

Source: ABC News, "Ex-Target workers sue, allege race discrimination," July 11, 2013

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