Racial discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace – or anywhere for that matter — are, to put it bluntly, despicable, repugnant and unforgivable. They also are illegal. Both issues came to the forefront recently thanks to a three-part series written by reporters of the Kansas City Star newspaper.
The newspaper’s reporting disclosed that the Kansas City Fire Department for decades has harbored a culture that accepts systemic racism and harassment, while female firefighters contend sexual harassment is rampant. And now city officials promise reforms to stamp out or at least minimize this accepted culture and illegal behavior.
Firefighters subjected to racial, sexual discrimination
The Kansas City Star series focused on how racial discrimination and sexual harassment as existed for decades at the fire department and city hall. For example, the fire department has long been dominated by White men. While the city of Kansas City is comprised of nearly 30% black residents, the number of Black firefighters does not reflect that number. Just 14% of its firefighters are Black.
According to the newspaper’s reporting, Black firefighters have consistently been passed over for promotions, banned from working at highly sought-after stations due to segregation and harassed and endangered.
The reporting caught the city off-guard after years of sweeping the knowledge of workplace racial and sexual discrimination under the rug. Now, the city expects to implement a plan that includes:
- Reviewing past discrimination incidents and preventing any future such incidents.
- Aggressively reminding firefighters of its internal policies on discrimination, while providing the resources and avenues for which employees can report such incidents.
- Reviewing the processes related to promotions and assignments to ascertain obstacles related to diversity and inclusion.
The city also promises discussions with the fire department unions, often led by old-schoolers who defend their members no matter what egregious behaviors they have done. Other promises include hiring outside investigators in discrimination investigations, hiring additional human resources staff and firing repeat offenders.
City officials have promised reforms that promote diversity. But we will see if change happens. We have heard such promises before. This represents a start, though. People who condone workplace racial and sexual discrimination must understand that this behavior is illegal. Protect our workers.