(CN) – A Louisiana appeals court upheld the suspensions of five supervisors who offended black workers by displaying “joke” items, including a whip, a rope that looked like a noose, and a sign that said “Bill’s Whipping Post.”
Michael Stamps and four other workers were suspended by the Jefferson Parish Department of Public Works-Sewerage after they displayed the whip, rope and “Whipping Post” sign. They also put up a dart board with a picture of a man holding a tuna and a rope-operated kicking device.
These objects “remained on display throughout a period of exacerbated racial tensions” stemming from a noose-hanging incident at a high school in Jena, La., the ruling states.
The employees were suspended after Terrance Lee mentioned the items in his lawsuit accusing the department of racial discrimination. The
The suspended workers appealed, arguing that the items were meant to be funny: the rope was supposed to be a cattle rope, not a noose, they claimed; and the picture in the dart board was of a white man, not a black man.
The Jefferson Parish Personnel Board upheld the suspensions, and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.
“The fact that the items had been there for a long time, or that the plaintiffs did not consider the items to be anything other than a joke on each other is irrelevant,” Judge Marc Johnson wrote. “It is the perception of the observer that determines whether an act or display is legally considered harassment.”
The plaintiffs violated the workplace rules of conduct and harassment policy “by failing to remove the objectionable items, have them removed, or report their existence to the appropriate authority, if there had been resistance to the removal,” the court concluded.