Lessons from NASCAR’s Discrimination Suit

Six years ago, I had never watched a NASCAR race and would have laughed if you had suggested I ever would. Aaahhh, what love will do to an otherwise rational person! Enter Rohn Butterfield into my life, and I can now tell you that there are 36 races in a season, the Daytona 500 (the start of the season) will be run in February, Jimmy Johnson has won the last three Chases for the Sprint Cup (boo!) and back-flipping Carl Edwards is “my boy”. Okay, I’m apparently an over-educated redneck.

While watching 43 cars go round and round a two-mile track for three hours can get boring at times (even if they are going 200 miles per hour), one of the things that keeps me interested is the fascinating business side of NASCAR. The NASCAR sanctioning body that puts on and officiates the races is privately owned by the France family, yet there are more corporate sponsorship dollars flowing into NASCAR than any other sport (hence the cars and drivers covered in decals). If you ever go to a race, you will marvel that the track is completely ringed by semis filled with NASCAR and driver merchandise.  NASCAR has 75 million fans who purchase over $3 billion in licensed products annually.

So NASCAR is big business. And like any business, it is subject to employee lawsuits. NASCAR just settled the latest claim for a confidential amount with no admission of any liability. The suit alleged that Mauricia Grant, who worked as a technical inspector certifying cars in the Nationwide Series, was subject to racial discrimination and sexual harassment.

NASCAR claimed in its response to the suit that it had a zero tolerance policy against discrimination and harassment in the workplace, that Grant had received and acknowledged that policy, that NASCAR had provided mandatory training annually on these subjects, a training that Grant had attended, and that NASCAR’s policy required Grant to immediately report any violations of its policies but she had failed to do so. In addition, NASCAR claimed that it conducted its own investigation when Grant’s allegations became known and had fired two officials accused of exposing themselves to Grant.

Grant said she was fired for reporting her complaint, which, if true, would be illegal retaliation. NASCAR, however, said Grant was fired for an altercation with a track security guard who asked to see her credentials. Ultimately, because the case was settled confidentially, we won’t know what really happened. But there are still lessons here that any business owner should learn from NASCAR’s experience. Ask yourself these questions to determine if you are protected should similar allegations be made against your company:

  • If you were sued today by one of your employees for discrimination, could you immediately produce your written policy prohibiting discrimination and illegal harassment that was in effect at the time the discrimination supposedly occurred?
  • If so, does your written policy require your employees to bring any discrimination or harassment to the attention of upper management as soon as it happens?
  • Could you put your hands on the written acknowledgment of that policy signed by the particular employee who sued you?
  • Do you have a human resources person trained and ready to conduct a thorough internal investigation into any allegations within two weeks of the discrimination or harassment claim being made?
  • Have you made annual discrimination and illegal harassment training mandatory for each employee and can you produce the attendance sheets from each training?
  • Do you have an employment lawyer on speed dial who can jump in and defend you as soon as any allegations are made (or before they are made to assure that your policies and training are done correctly)?

If you answered “no” to any of these questions, you are not prepared for the discrimination or harassment claim that eventually comes to all businesses with more than 15 employees.

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