Problem: A letter was distributed to senior management of a major manufacturing company containing a drawing of nine stick figures being hung by the neck, with the caption “One down, nine to go.” The letter appeared just after one of ten black supervisors in this large firm had retired. Subsequently, nooses and emails with racially inappropriate language were found in various locations. Black employees formed a group and threatened to file an EEOC complaint and/or a class action lawsuit against the company.

Response: Fairfax, working closely with management, conducted a thorough investigation, following the company’s mandate to address the issues fully, no matter what the consequences. Based on a forensic examination of the evidence and interviews with employees, Fairfax determined in relatively short order that, in fact, the incendiary messages and props were the work of two disgruntled black employees, one of whom had just received an unfavorable performance review. Furthermore, it turned out the same employee had previously alleged that he was the victim of racially motivated threats at other locations, each time on the heels of an unfavorable performance review.

Result: The company avoided both an EEOC complaint and a lawsuit. The black employees’ concerns were brought to the attention of management, who took corrective action. The company established a regular channel of communication to bring issues promptly to management’s notice to defuse potential problems before employees felt the need for third-party intervention.