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A friend of mine works at a religious organization as an employee. They are also a naturalized citizen, who is white, but is of a minority ethnic group (for background).

The org has sent out several emails over time focusing on racism, but with the implication that white people are the sole problem of all racism. (which, let me be clear, here in the US, there is of course centuries of legitimate beef!) The issue being that they are receiving these messages and feel insulted and as if they're being disparaged by the company itself, solely for their race. This person is open minded and believes that there are issues with equality in the country, but receives these emails and believes from time to time that they are being told that all white people are a problem, rather than focusing on issues with inclusivity and equality or racism in general, just very specifically focusing on white people.

They recently received a company wide meeting invite for a meeting discussing the concept of whiteness and how it impacts an organization and individuals, going on to liken "whiteness" itself to white supremacy.

My friend wrote a response, asking not to be included on future meeting invites, explaining that the one in question and others have made it feel as though their 'whiteness' was a problem, and that they felt it was a pejorative term and would like to not receive remarks like this in the future.

The business later sent another email that includes some description of the meeting itself, that it is sent to an organization wide distribution list and will not have an ability for people to opt out (therefore, my interpretation being, they are ignoring their request to stop receiving the offensive remarks in these emails into the future).

It goes on to state that the next session will be on White Fragility, and states that "by definition", racism is based on the concept of whiteness, which is enforced by power and violence.

It has a definition of 'white fragility' later on that paired with the usage of the term in the email seems somewhat offensive... in the same way that hearing 'black fragility' or other combinations of the words would seem, from the negative connotations of the word fragility, of course pejorative to whatever group is paired with it.

My question is... This seems like a form of harassment and discrimination. Is it? Are there additional steps they should take to address the issue? I've told my friend they need to find a lawyer and consider whether they have a case, as they'd included HR and their own manager, as well as the other person who's sending these messages, and are still receiving them.

They've told me messages like these have been going out for years and it's been very upsetting having to read them and having to confront them specifically in order to request that they stop receiving them... just to have it continue. They are, of course, very worried they'll lose their job over speaking up over it.


**Are religious organizations allowed to discriminate based on race, is this a moot point?**

I've seen references on the internet that the supreme court has ruled that religious org's can discriminate based on religion, but I haven't seen on race, such as in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & Sch. v. E.E.O.C. (2012) (https://mtsu.edu/first-amendment/article/926/discrimination-by-religious-organizations).

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  • 1
    Someone being offended by their perception of the wording of a series of emails not directed to them personally might be nothing. In In contrast, hiring and firing decisions might be something. Jul 13 at 1:28
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    @GeorgeWhite, regardless of hiring and promotions and such, isn't being bombarded with racist propaganda enough to constitute creating a hostile workplace environment?
    – Ryan_L
    Jul 13 at 4:10
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    You say the content includes "states that "by definition", racism is based on the concept of whiteness, which is enforced by power and violence." That might be a reasonable definition. The "harassment" might be in the eye of the specific beholder. Jul 13 at 5:30
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    This question would be a far better fit on Workplace. They would be able to give practical advice on how to deal with the situation which I think is what you're looking for.
    – Unfair-Ban
    Jul 13 at 10:39
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    Becoming defensive about confronting the meaning of whiteness is what is generally meant by "white fragility". You are not specific about how exactly the company defined the term, and are relaying this second-hand by way of someone who, honestly, sounds like they are exhibiting defensive behaviors about the topic already. Perhaps your friend should try to attend this session in listen-only mode.
    – user662852
    Jul 13 at 20:05
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This is the overview of employment discrimination by the EEOC (no legal reason for them to specifically put this under "youth").

To "discriminate" against someone means to treat that person differently, or less favorably, for some reason...

The laws enforced by EEOC protect you from employment discrimination when it involves:

Unfair treatment because of your race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, disability, age (age 40 or older), or genetic information.

Harassment by managers, co-workers, or others in your workplace, because of your race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, disability, age (age 40 or older), or genetic information.

A subtype of harassment is "hostile environment harassment". See the EEOC page on harassment. It is

unwelcome conduct that is based on race... Harassment becomes unlawful where 1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or 2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.

Also it is illegal to punish a person for complaining about harassment. On the face of it, this could constitute racial harassment. The EEOC suggests that it is illegal here, in their FAQ

Are White employees protected from race discrimination even though they are not a minority?

Yes. You are protected from different treatment at work on the basis of your race, whether you are White, Black, or some other race.

Although this is an advisory from the Dep't of Interior and not the EEOC, it is reasonable to assume that it was at least minimally vetted by competent lawyers who know discrimination law. What is prohibited is

Unwelcome conduct, verbal or physical, including intimidation, ridicule, insult, comments, or physical conduct, that is based on an individual’s protected status or protected activities under Personnel Bulletin 18-01, when the behavior can reasonably be considered to adversely affect the work environment, or an employment decision affecting the employee is based upon the employee’s acceptance or rejection of such conduct

(where race is a protected status). I don't know of any case law that establishes for certain that what you describe is illegal. The ministerial exception allows a religion to follow the rules of the religion in hiring its ministers, but otherwise doesn't exempt religions from prohibitions against discrimination.

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  • What does this mean in the end?
    – Joe W
    Jul 13 at 1:27
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    It means that somebody could sue, and they might win, but again they might not. They'd probably want to hire a lawyer.
    – user6726
    Jul 13 at 1:31
  • But at the very least... They should not feel as though they might lose their job for complaining and pressing the issue, right? If they continue asking to stop receiving these communications in this manner, and end up terminated for seemingly no other good reason, that would be an illegal retaliation?
    – schizoid04
    Jul 13 at 1:35
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    @schizoid04 Is it really that hard to claim that you feel you might lose your job over something you report to an employer? What reasons would they have to feel that they would lose their job if they reported this considering all the rules in place to prevent that?
    – Joe W
    Jul 13 at 3:14
  • @schizoid04 That would be, though proving it (especially in an at will state) would be difficult.
    – Unfair-Ban
    Jul 13 at 10:41

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