Apart from an oddball collection of misfits that includes reality TV star Omarosa Manigault, former Wisconsin sheriff David Clarke, and neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson, Donald Trump, for most of his adult life, has displayed an open hostility and contempt toward African Americans.
From the time in the ’70s when Trump was sued by the Department of Justice for refusing to rent property to black Americans and other minorities to his egregious call for New York to reinstate the death penalty for the so-called Central Park Five to his Obama birtherism right on up to last week’s shameful NFL/Stephen Curry Twitter tirade, he’s been pretty up front with us.
For Trump’s coterie of black “friends” who stand to benefit professionally and financially from their relationship with him, the president’s overt racism is something they can apparently overlook.
But what about the people who aren’t his friends? As president, Trump is the boss of approximately 2.1 million federal employees, 18.1 percent of whom are African Americans. To these 300,000 plus employees, the president’s bigotry is not only hurtful. It creates a hostile work environment.
Hear me out. Federal statutes that prohibit employment discrimination in the workplace define discrimination to include conduct that creates a work environment that is intimidating, hostile or offensive to reasonable people. Types of offensive conduct that has been found actionable by courts include offensive jokes, slurs, epithets, name calling, threats, intimidation, ridicule or mockery, and insults.
Additionally, courts have held that the harasser can be the victim’s supervisor or a supervisor in another area. The victim does not have to be the person harassed, but can be anyone affected by the offensive conduct. And the unlawful harassment may occur without economic injury to, or discharge of, the victim.
Under even the most restrictive reading of federal anti-discrimination laws, Trump’s rhetoric and antics arguably rise to the level of severe and pervasive harassment deemed unlawful by well-established federal case law.
So let’s look at some of Trump’s more recent hostile comments toward African Americans, during the campaign and since he’s been in office.
In September 2015, Trump slammed the Black Lives Matter movement on Fox’s The O’Reilly Factor, casting the group as rowdy agitators. “I think they're trouble. I think they’re looking for trouble,” Trump told O’Reilly.
Two months later, after his supporters physically attacked a Black Lives Matter protestors at a campaign rally in Alabama, Trump suggested the following day that the attackers were justified. “Maybe [the protester] should have been roughed up,” Trump mused. “It was absolutely disgusting what he was doing.”
Then as president, at a press conference in August 2017, Trump responded to questions about the violence that occurred during protests in Charlottesville by suggesting a moral equivalency between anti-fascist demonstrators on the left, and Nazis and members of the Klan—a group notoriously hostile to African Americans.
“I do think there’s blame on both sides. You look at both sides,” Trump said. “You have some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people on both sides.”
Next, Trump suggested the removal of Confederate statues—monuments honoring men who fought to preserve slavery—were an attack on American culture. “Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments,” Trump said.
And just last week, at another rally in Alabama to support the failing campaign of Senator Luther Strange, Trump doubled down on his comments denouncing African American football players by suggesting an “us” against “them” divide.
“You know what’s hurting the game more than that?” Trump asked an overwhelming white audience. “When people like yourselves turn on television and you see those people taking the knee when they are playing our great national anthem.”
The president’s remarks are the gravamen of a hostile work environment as defined by relevant case law. His insults, threats and demeaning comments don’t just permeate the airwaves and social media sites. They infect the federal workplace and spread like a malignant cancer. These harassing statements dehumanize African Americans and create a two-tier workplace: one where black workers are deemed inferior to whites. They weaken morale and productivity; cause depression; and erode cohesiveness which is critical to all workplaces.
If you still think this is fanciful, consider what would be happening if Trump were the CEO of a corporation. Right now, lawyers would be advising shareholders to brace for a barrage of workplace discrimination suits as they prepared his separation papers in order to protect their employees and eliminate the hostility. Although Trump doesn’t answer to shareholders, he is not above the law.
Ordinarily these employees could seek relief from the civil rights division of the Department of Justice. In this instance, given that its head, Jeff Sessions, has been reluctant to criticize Trump and has a horrific record on civil rights matters, African Americans are in a hellacious bind.
Black federal employees may have no choice but to seek redress from the courts where they may find favor, at least from the handful of federal judges who rejected Trump’s discriminatory Muslim ban.