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Latino workers sue Target for race discrimination, sombrero memo

Suppose you were handling human resources for a Target distribution warehouse in a rural area in Northern California -- in Yolo County, for instance. You know that rural areas are becoming more diverse across the nation, and you may notice that most or all of your managers are Caucasian. You might want to provide those managers with a few tips on how to deal sensitively with Hispanic employees, right?

It seemed like a good idea at the time. Target Corp., however, is now facing a major public relations headache -- and a race discrimination lawsuit -- in part because of just such tips.

Five Hispanic men who used to work at Target’s Yolo County distribution warehouse have indeed filed suit, and one piece of evidence they produced to support their case has created a nationwide furor. It’s a memo, apparently from a local HR representative, not the national company, called “Organization Effectiveness, Employee and Labor Relations Multi-Cultural Tips.”

The uproar is because those “multi-cultural tips” appear themselves to be racist. The full text is available at the source linked below, but highlights included tipping off ignorant managers that “not everyone wears a sombrero,” that Mexicans may be undocumented and are typically less educated than Cubans, and that Hispanics “may say 'OK, OK' and pretend to understand, when they do not, just to save face.”

Beyond the sombrero memo, the men also complain that their uniformly Caucasian supervisors routinely used racial slurs in the workplace and intentionally humiliated Hispanic workers based on racial animus. For example, managers said things like "Only a 'wetback' can work this hard," and "What the hell, I'm already sweating like a Mexican," according to the lawsuit.

Furthermore, the men say that when they complained about the issues they were fired in retaliation. They are seeking punitive damages for race discrimination, age discrimination, and retaliatory termination.

A spokesperson from Target headquarters, which is in the midst of a company-wide push to attract more Latino customers, contacted the Huffington Post with an apology.

“It is never Target’s intent to offend our team members or guests and we apologize,” she wrote in part. “The content of the document referenced is not representative of who Target is. …This document, which was used during conversations at one distribution center, was never part of any formal or company-wide training. We take accountability for its contents and are truly sorry.”

Sources: 

  • Courthouse News Service, "Workers Outraged at Target's 'Cultural Tips'," Elizabeth Warmerdam, July 8, 2013
  • Huffington Post, "Target Reminded Bosses Not All Hispanic Employees Eat Tacos, Wear Sombreros: Lawsuit," Kim Bhasin, July 10, 2013

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