Judges affirm woman who emailed racist joke not entitled to unemployment benefits

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A newspaper employee who emailed a racist joke to two co-workers was correctly denied unemployment benefits after she was fired, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled.

Teresa Fritz-Lint appealed the Review Board of the Department of Workforce Development’s decision to reverse an administrative law judge’s ruling that The Elkhart Truth failed to establish Fritz-Lint had sent any racial material to the African-American co-worker.

Fritz-Lint had received an email from her husband that had a picture with a caption that said “Black people started wearing their pants low, white people called it ‘saggin.’ Spell saggin backwards … those sneaky white people.” She forwarded it to two co-workers. A few days later, a printed copy of the picture was placed on an African-American co-worker’s chair. That person filed a complaint with the paper’s parent company, Truth Publishing Co. Inc. Truth dismissed Fritz-Lint for violating its anti-harassment policy by distributing the email to other employees.

After she was fired, Fritz-Lint sought unemployment benefits, which were initially denied by a claims deputy, but the ALJ reversed that decision. The Truth appealed and the review board reversed the ALJ, concluding that Fritz-Lint had “forwarded an email that she should have reasonably understood was a denigration of African Americans and would be considered offensive material in violation of (Truth’s) policy.”

She argued that because the company failed to prove she forwarded the email to a person in a protected class or placed the email on the chair of the co-worker, the company failed to establish she violated the policy. The review board and Truth claimed she violated the policy simply by forwarding the email to co-workers, thereby contributing to the creation of an “intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.”

The COA agreed with the board and the Truth. Her dissemination of the material allowed the delivery of it to the African-American co-worker to occur, Judge Cale Bradford wrote. The mere dissemination of such material, if left unchecked, could encourage the growth, spread and acceptance of such attitudes in the workplace.

The case is Teresa A. Fritz-Lint v. Review Board of the Ind. Dept. of Workforce Development and Truth Publishing Co., Inc., 93A02-1404-EX-243.

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