We’ve Come a Long Way (Except for Michael and Dwight)

November 07, 2008 - by: Dominic Verstegen 3 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: $50,000.

In this week’s episode of The Office, Michael Scott is on camera calling Kelly Kapoor dusky and exotic, and then Dwight Schrute, the assistant to the regional manager, refers to her southern India birth before he threatens her. A jury somewhere will find against Dunder Mifflin for race discrimination. Of course, that jury would have to ignore Kelly sabotaging Dwight’s and Jim’s bonuses and then claiming she was raped when she was caught in her misconduct. (“You cannot just say that you’ve been raped and expect all your problems to go away. Not again, don’t keep doing that.”) But still, some people will sympathize with Kelly.

It’s fitting that the Dunder Mifflin gang brought race discrimination to our attention this week, after the historic election of Barack Obama. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed racial segregation in schools, public places, and employment, is not even 50 years old, and now we have a black President. (The Civil Rights Act of 1964 also outlawed discrimination based on religion, gender, and national origin — interestingly, gender was added at the last minute by a Virginia congressman who thought its inclusion would kill the bill.) This piece of legislation drastically changed the face of employment law. It allowed the Kelly Kapoors of the world to file lawsuits when the Michael Scotts of the world called them dusky.

We’ve come a long way, but there are still a lot of Michaels and Dwights out there. For every person who has conquered their prejudice, there’s still a Michael out there assuming Darryl was in a gang. (This ended up being justified, though, when Darryl told Michael he was in the Latin Kings, the Warriors, and Newsies.) For every door that has been opened for someone of color, a door has been shut on an Oscar out there (Michael: “I will use your talents come baseball season, my friend. Or if we box.”).

In any event, HR professionals and managers must be on the lookout for any racial, ethnic, sexual, or other kind of discrimination. If your company allows this activity to go unnoticed or you foster an environment in which this behavior is allowed, your company could be held liable. It’s hard to stay on top of this, but no one ever said it was easy.

That’s what she said.

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1 Tom
16:14:47, 10/11/08

Darryl was being sarcastic when he said he was in gangs, Michael was just being racist and Darryl thought he’d string Michael along for his own amusement. Darryl has clearly not been in these typical ‘gangs’ like Michael has so narrow mindedly assumed.

2 Rolf in Denver
13:08:24, 13/11/08

GREAT blog! Thanks for creating it.

I dunno – the “Newsies” sounds pretty ominous to me…

But I think Tom has a point. I doubt Darryl has ever said anything NON-sarcastic to Michael. For good reason.

3 Liz K.
14:57:56, 30/11/08

Great insights. you guys could also considering a similar column based on the actions that happen in Mad Men, the show that’s based in the early 60′s. (ie if that were to happen today, how much litigation damage would that be). I’m appalled by what is tolerated in that show in the workplace but I have no idea how much they’re exaggerating as I’m a Gen X-er. Compared to what goes on in The Office, it’s an interesting comparison– where we were, and where we are now, and where we need to go.

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