ANCHORAGE (CN) – A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by an African-American postal worker who claimed a white custodian harassed her when he placed a bumper sticker on her car that read “When All Else Fails, Blame the White Male.”
While U.S. District Judge Sharon L. Gleason agreed with plaintiff Alfreda Lockwood that the custodian’s actions were certainly wrong, she found they did refer in a derogatory way to Lockwood’s race or sex, but rather was “a sarcastic jab at modern trends of racial and gender sensitivity.”
As recounted in the ruling, “On July 31, 2009, Ms. Lockwood, an African-American female, complained to a manager, Kris Lyons, about a bumper sticker that had been placed on a trashcan in the workplace by David Champion, a white male custodian. The bumper sticker said, ‘When All Else Fails, Blame the White Male.’ Mr. Lyons spoke with Mr. Champion about the sticker and it was removed. On August 11, 2009, Ms. Lockwood discovered an identical sticker on the bumper of her vehicle, which she reported both to the police and to a temporary manager, George Sieveking. For purposes of this motion, this court has assumed that Mr. Champion caused the sticker to be placed on Ms. Lockwood’s vehicle.”
The ruling states Ms. Lockwood and Mr. Champion had a history of disagreement prior to the events described. Champion had allegedly shouted at her while looking at her menacingly, interrupted her work conversations by banging his fists on a table, yelled “boo” at her five or six times in a row, walked toward her while twirling a broom and bothered her in the break room, despite management’s request for him to not do so. Even Champion’s manager worked with Lockwood’s manager to keep the two apart.
After finding the bumper sticker on her car, Lockwood sued the Postmaster General of the United States.
Judge Gleason found that Champion’s conduct did not contain any explicit racial or gender references, and the bumper sticker did not refer in a derogatory way to Ms. Lockwood’s race or sex. Gleason found Lockwood’s employment was not altered in any way by demotion, reassignment or discriminatory intent by the postal service. Lockwood also failed on her hostile work environment claim, because the workplace was not “permeated with discriminatory intimidation
Gleason wrote, “Mr. Champion’s display of the bumper sticker at the post office was not directed specifically at Ms. Lockwood. And assuming Mr. Champion had placed the bumper sticker on Ms. Lockwood’s vehicle, that one act falls far short of the requisite ‘severe and pervasive’ gender-based or race-based conduct necessary to support a hostile work environment claim.”
Gleason said she was also not persuaded by the defendant’s argument.
She wrote, “The defendant maintains that the sticker’s message is a sincere expression of the persecution white men feel for being made the scapegoats of society. This court was not persuaded by this argument. The sticker’s message is more likely intended to be read as a sarcastic jab at modern trends of racial and gender sensitivity. Yet despite the racial, gendered nature of the bumper sticker’s message, this court finds that there is no evidence that Mr. Champion’s posting of the sticker on the trashcan at the workplace was specifically directed at Ms. Lockwood. Instead, it was placed at the workplace as a general commentary that was not directed at any one individual, gender, or race.”
The court found that Champion’s behavior was best explained by his and Ms. Lockwood’s dislike of each other. Gleason added, “While certainly it is highly inappropriate to place a bumper sticker on another person’s vehicle, and particularly a bumper sticker that one knows is offensive to the vehicle’s owner, such conduct cannot be regarded ‘as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized community’ so as to state a cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress.”