Posts Tagged ‘Unfair Labor Practices’

‘Anti-racism’ as an unfair labor practice

March 15, 2021

On July 31, 2018, Oumou Kanoute, a black student and teaching assistant at Smith College was eating lunch at a dorm and was approached by a campus police officer and asked what she was doing there.

My account of what happened next is based on an article in the New York Times.

Deeply offended for being harassed for “eating while black,” she posted a denunciation on social media of a janitor and a cafeteria worker that she thought had reported her.

Kathleen McCartney, the president of Smith College, immediately apologized to her and put the janitor on paid leave.  She also hired a law firm to make an impartial investigation of the incident.

She also ordered anti-bias training for all staff, revamped the campus police force and created segregated dormitories for non-white students.

In October, the law firm submitted its report.  The dormitory in question had been reserved for high school students taking part in a summer program.  Smith had asked college staff to report unauthorized persons in the dorm.  The campus police officer had spoken to her politely and left without taking any action.

The janitor she denounced, Mark Patenaude, was not the janitor who notified police.  The cafeteria worker had mentioned to her that the dorm was off limits, but had not notified anybody.

In other words, nobody had done anything wrong.

McCartney made the report public, but commented, “I suspect you will conclude, as did I, it is impossible to rule out the potential of implicit racial bias.”

My interpretation of that comment is: (1) Employees accused of racial bias are guilty until proven innocent.  (2) It is impossible to prove you are innocent of racial bias.

Jodi Blair, the cafeteria worker, earned $40,000 a year at Smith.  Tuition, including room and board, is $78,000 a year.

Blair said she got notes in her mailboxes and taped to her car, and phone calls at home, accusing her of racism.  She heard students whisper as she went by, “There goes the racist.”

The American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who represented the student commented, “It’s troubling that people were more offended by being called racist that by actual racism in our society.  Allegations of being racist, even getting direct mailers in their mailboxes, is not on a par with the consequences of actual racism.”

Blair suffers from lupus, a disease of the immune system, and stress triggers episodes.  She checked into a hospital last year.  Then she, along with other workers, was furloughed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

She applied for a job in a restaurant, and, she said, the first thing she was asked was whether she was the notorious racist.

The janitor who called campus security is still working at Smith and didn’t want to be interviewed.  Mark Patenaude, the other janitor, quit not long after his name was posed on Facebook.

Campus staff, but not faculty, are required to attend anti-bias training.  Blair and Patenaude both disliked being interrogated about their inner feelings and childhood experiences regarding race. 

Another employee, Jodi Shaw, said being subjected to such training should not be a condition of employment.  She resigned and is suing the college.

(more…)