my manager wanted to assign our hotel rooms based on race

by Ask a Manager on July 8, 2013

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A reader writes:

I’m asking this question on behalf of one of my former coworkers. My former company was a foreign language educational publisher whose staff was pretty diverse. All employees had a professional relationship with each other and well, race never factored into really anything.

The CEO is a different story. Before a major conference, she sent my coworker an email stating that the rooms must be “mixed up by race” and that “two Caucasians cannot stay in the same room together, one Caucasian must always be together with one Asian during all times at the conference, including going on lunch breaks, sharing rooms, and sitting next to each other on the plane.” The reason she gave for this was, as a foreign language company, she wanted us to “live our mission statement.” She also said something to the extent of “because I am a minority, I can make these decisions.” This was not the first time that she has made decisions based on race, but it was by far one of the more absurd.

My coworker–who was planning the conference and was in charge of “splitting up the races” –found this request to be over the top, unprofessional and potentially destructive for her career. She forwarded the email to a number of our colleagues, asking their opinions on how to best approach the CEO about the situation. In doing so, she accidentally forwarded the email back to the CEO, who was beyond angry. She called my coworker into the office, threatened to fire her for insubordination, and called her names (including the Chinese word for devil!). The CEO has refused to give her additional assignments, has generally told her that her life will be a living hell while she stays there, gossips about her to other employees, and even included her refusal to support the policy in her annual performance evaluation (it was 2 pages out of her 5 page evaluation!). During my last day, my exit interview was mostly my boss asking me about strategies for getting rid of that coworker and telling me how evil she is, despite my protests that, well … she’s a great coworker!

This is obviously all horrendous management, but is it legal? Was the initial decision to ask Caucasians and Asians to share rooms at a conference legal, and, were my boss’s subsequent retributions against a coworker who refused to do such a grey area thing illegal or were they just bad management? To complicate things, my coworker is on an H1B1 visa and is afraid that the visa will also be revoked if my boss does fire her for this incident.

Yep, it’s illegal — both the initial instructions to treat people according to their race, and the subsequent retaliation against your coworker for questioning it.

I suspect the reason you’re wondering if it’s illegal or not is that your manager’s initial instructions — while offensive and insulting on multiple levels — weren’t necessarily something that would have a negative impact on race over the other. Usually when we think of laws on this stuff, we’re looking for actions that will have an adverse impact on on a particular group. Asking people to share rooms based on race is problematic for many reasons, but can you argue that it has an adverse impact (versus just being offensive to deal with people by what race they are)?

I turned to an employment lawyer, Erik H., to explain exactly how the law would treat this case. He says:

To use a deliberately compelling analogy: Imagine that an employer segregates employer-provided parking lot buses by race. The employer requires whites to sit on the left, and blacks on the right. There are always enough seats for all races, and there’s no difference between the sides of the bus. There is no provable harm, right? After all, nobody is denied a seat. But the harm arises from the act of discrimination. The employer’s segregation would be illegal. The harm also arises from the implied threat of retaliation if you complain about it.

This is basically the same thing.

Also, when you have such a clear discriminatory intent, then as a practical matter it makes it a lot easier for the EEOC (or courts) to “find” a discriminatory harm, even if it’s fairly remote.

He also says:

Mandatory assignment of tasks, roles, roommates, etc. by race is a violation of federal law. I don’t know for certain whether or not the company is covered by the EEOC, but since you mention a “CEO” it is likely that they have at least 15 employees for EEOC purposes. (If you want information on EEOC coverage and what “15 employees” actually means, here is a link.)

Even if the company is not subject to federal jurisdiction, this behavior is almost certainly a violation of state laws (I’m not familiar with the laws of every state, but I’d be amazed if there was an exception.) State laws usually have lower qualifying limits for employer size.

… The retaliation is also illegal, and is its own separate issue. When an employer does something illegal and when it gets reported, the employer is not permitted to take adverse action against the employee. The actions you describe (illegal act followed by bad reviews and other punishment) are the classic elements of a retaliation claim and would support a civil suit against the employer. For example, if the employee was fired they might be able to get substantial damages.

Unfortunately, this is where theory runs into reality. There are a lot of illegal things that go on and which are never resolved fairly. These things don’t always work as planned, so you’ll need help—because unless the employee helps to preserve evidence and take appropriate action, there’s a chance that they will not get the results that they hope for.

This will almost certainly involve a report to the EEOC. However, the employee should immediately contact an employment attorney, as in “today, if possible.” [A good place to find employee-side specialists is the state arm of the National Employment Lawyer’s Association; try a Google search for “statename NELA.”] The attorney will help both with evaluation (and preservation) of the evidence, and also in helping the employee make the proper reports to government agencies. Do not use a work computer or a work phone to make this contact.

So there you go. Now, because your coworker is here on an H1B visa and concerned about losing her job and subsequently her ability to stay here, one option might be for you to report this to the EEOC yourself — and explain there’s a person being retaliated against who is in a vulnerable position, visa-wise. You could talk to your friend first to make sure she’s comfortable with you proceeding that way, but it really sounds like someone should speak up against this boss, who seems to think that her own status as a minority allows her to get a pass on discriminatory behavior — when it doesn’t.

{ 317 comments… read them below or add one }

Lizzie July 8, 2013 at 12:23 pm

You should have seen my eyes bugging out while I read the question. How could anyone ever think this is a good idea?!

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Chinook July 8, 2013 at 2:12 pm

As I read this all I can keep thinking is what else that manager discrimantes on? Does she decide who gets to be at what job based on ethnicity (as in “I have 6 caucasians already so the next hire must be Asian”). The only arguement I could think of for the force mixing of employees by ethnicity is if there were language issues and they wanted to ensure that every room has atleast one person who could communicate with the hotel, but then ethnicity would be a poor way to handle this as it is possible to be born as part of an ethnic groupw ithotu speakign the language and vice versa.

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Pussyfooter July 8, 2013 at 2:55 pm

The boss seems to want to project a (visibly) diverse image at this conference. She wants all her employees to be *seen* in mixed race groupings–like a staged ad.

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anau87 (The OP) July 8, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Yeah, I wish it was that innocent, but, there’s been a lot of other stuff that has gone on around the edges that I doubt it was a “good intentions, bad outcome” kinda thing.

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Pussyfooter July 8, 2013 at 3:47 pm

Oh, no. I didn’t mean to imply that she had good intentions. I think she’s mercenary and suspect that this is just one of a constant stream of micro-managing behaviors she likely indulges in. I think she did it for her business bottom line and doesn’t give a damn about her employees’ feelings. Sort of like a spoiled kid with a bunch of toy soldiers.

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anau87 (The OP) July 8, 2013 at 4:03 pm

Oh, gotcha now!

Totally agree with the “spoiled kid with a bunch of toy soldiers” analogy. It’s gotten her to be minimally succesfull, but the constant turnover [for this and other reasons] has definitely hampered whatever possible success she could have had.

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Elizabeth West July 8, 2013 at 2:40 pm

Oh amen–I think mine actually fell out and rolled across the floor. What kind of crazy shiz is this??

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Fee July 8, 2013 at 2:50 pm

Seriously. I have nothing to contribute here other than to say this is one of the most bonkers things I’ve ever read. And I read a news story about a South American referee being decapitated during a football match today.

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anau87 (The OP) July 8, 2013 at 3:32 pm

My former coworker and I are voting for this as the best/most hilarious comment. And then we cried a little that it was true.

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Pussyfooter July 8, 2013 at 3:52 pm

WOW. THAT. Is. Quite. A. Story. (about the referee)

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Ruffingit July 8, 2013 at 5:48 pm

+1

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Lisa July 8, 2013 at 7:57 pm

I read that story over the weekend…and I still think this situation is crazier.

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Nikki T July 8, 2013 at 3:23 pm

Same here. I do hope someone puts a stop to this!

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Yikes! July 8, 2013 at 5:32 pm

I have seen a lot of weird stuff in the workplace so sadly this doesn’t surprise me at all. I had a friend who worked for a woman who was the CEO/owner of a large company. The CEO happened to be from the middle east and was Muslim. The CEO, her daughter (who also worked for the company), and my friend were on a business trip once. The CEO wanted Starbucks so she, the daughter, and my friend drove to the local Starbucks. The CEO sat in the car when they got there and my friend, being unsure why they were just sitting there said “Do you want to go in now?”

The CEO’s reply “You need to get me my coffee. I’m a Muslim princess, I don’t need to get my own coffee.”

I am not kidding. Of course, this is the same CEO who felt that her executive assistant should not only get her lunch, but also cut it up for her.

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rdb July 11, 2013 at 9:10 am

I’m an executive assistant, and this sounds very much like a former boss of mine. I was required to do things like fetch her coffee or tea, heat up her lunch in the microwave for her, and water the orchid on her desk. I would also be called into her office to open/close her window blinds – the ones less than ten feet from her desk, but a hundred or so feet from mine.

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Yikes! July 11, 2013 at 1:21 pm

rdb,

I think you may have worked for the same woman as my friend. What you describe are all the things she had to do as well. You would have thought the CEO was completely and totally incapable of simple tasks such as opening/closing the blinds or watering her own plant. In reality, she was an entitled biatch with some major mental health issues.

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Jessa July 8, 2013 at 6:17 pm

I had to read it twice, I mean I couldn’t think that someone really tried to DO this in this day and age.

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EnnVeeEl July 8, 2013 at 12:27 pm

This isn’t a racial issue. This is a crazy issue. I’m glad you got out, OP, and your coworker should be updating her resume and getting it out there too.

I’m a card carrying member of a Protected Class and you know…Somethings aren’t worth trying to fight. There are so many companies out there doing the right thing. Not because they are legally required to, but because the organization is a good one. Go work for them.

There are so many things to take into consideration with these situations, your career, stress levels, your well-being. I mean, this is the CEO of a company doing this stuff. I bet there is a whole lot wrong throughout the entire company.

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Mike C. July 8, 2013 at 12:43 pm

You don’t to decide for every other PoC what is and isn’t worth a fight.

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Ask a Manager July 8, 2013 at 12:46 pm

Come on, she wasn’t trying to. She was giving her opinion about how to respond in this situation, as we all do here.

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Mike C. July 8, 2013 at 1:04 pm

It’s still a bad argument. It’s no different than saying, “I’m a woman and I don’t think it’s sexist”. Simply being a member of a group doesn’t mean you can speak for the entire group, only yourself.

It certainly doesn’t mean that the personal experience should be ignored nor does it mean that particular viewpoints can’t add value to a discussion.

I’m willing to bet that as a PoC EnnVeeEl has had to deal with a great deal of things that I’ll never experience or understand. But that doesn’t mean that others shouldn’t try to act when they see wrong doing. Especially when this employee has an H1-B visa.

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Forrest July 8, 2013 at 1:14 pm

Um, no. It was more like “I’m a woman and I understand where you are coming from…and this is how I deal with it.”

EnnVeeEl is saying how she relates to the situation and how she views it…which is what every commenter here does.

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TheSnarkyB July 8, 2013 at 1:55 pm

No, I agree with Mike C. here. EnVeeEl’s comment did come off as “you can’t and shouldn’t choose this fight” rather than “I wouldn’t personally choose this fight.” I agree with the last paragraph, but it’s the stuff before that that sounds a little preachy or something… I’m not very “clean & articulate” today, sorry.
-
NVL, I don’t know if you were kidding but yes, it is a race issue. Maybe you were joking by calling it a crazy issue but that isn’t totally clear from your phrasing so, just wanted to say, yes it is a racial issue.

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Heather July 8, 2013 at 2:02 pm

Yeah, I have to say I am with Mike C. too. It’s up to the individual what they judge as being worth fighting, and if the OP and her ex-colleague want to take it on, they should do it.

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EnnVeeEl July 8, 2013 at 12:57 pm

How do you know I’m a PoC? You just assumed a whole lot! I simply posed another way of possibly dealing with this. It’s something to seriously consider.

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Mike C. July 8, 2013 at 1:05 pm

Sorry, I took “card carrying member of a protected class” as “PoC”, given the discussion was dealing with issues of race.

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Jazzy Red July 8, 2013 at 2:02 pm

I’m in a protected class, and I’m whiter than wonder bread. No accent, either

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Chinook July 8, 2013 at 2:13 pm

Mike C, I read “PoC” as “person of colour” as well.

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Ash July 8, 2013 at 2:41 pm

That’s not what EnnVeeEl was saying, she never called herself a PoC, so the argument isn’t over what the acronym means.

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Kelly July 9, 2013 at 10:33 am

I guess I’m a doofus, I thought you were saying “Piece of Crap” because PoS means “Piece of naughty word poop”

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Liz July 9, 2013 at 11:05 pm

I’m liking my try of working it out:
- Pirate of Carribean
- Piece of Cake
… Then I decided to google it and found:
- Proof of Concept
- Piece of Cake

and finally person of colour.

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Bleh July 8, 2013 at 1:17 pm

I’m with Mike C here. And it’s more complicated for the coworker because of her visa status, so he or she can’t just get out.

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Vicki July 8, 2013 at 1:30 pm

If it was only the OP or her friend, I’d agree with “Get out”.

But, given that all of the employees are being discriminated against, someone needs to report this.

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Xay July 8, 2013 at 2:57 pm

Isn’t everyone a member of a Protected Class by virtue of having a race or ethnicity?

I agree that some battles aren’t worth fighting, but I would fight this one because it’s not just affecting all employees but could jeopardize someone’s visa status for something that is illegal.

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fposte July 8, 2013 at 3:39 pm

Yes, everyone is in a protected class. I don’t know if that was EnnVeeEl’s point or not, but it certainly could be.

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Katie July 8, 2013 at 6:19 pm

No, there are other protected classes (some depending on the the state you’re in) that aren’t race or ethnicity. Gender, sexual orientation, and disability are three that I can think of offhand (the second one I think does depend on the state you’re in; I’m not sure that’s federally protected).

The H1B1 status does add a definite complicating factor the others in a protected class wouldn’t necessarily have to deal with.

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fposte July 8, 2013 at 8:19 pm

Right, but as Xay points out, everybody is in a federally protected class by race; the law is that you can’t discriminate by race, not that you can’t discriminate against minorities.

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EngineerGirl July 8, 2013 at 3:31 pm

You’re wrong this time because of the H1-B issue. The minute the person loses their job they lose their visa and are sent out of the country. The only protection (and it’s a weak one) is to go to EEOC.

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Anonymous July 8, 2013 at 10:06 pm

I think they have 30 days to find another employer to sponsor.

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Lily in NYC July 8, 2013 at 12:28 pm

We finally have a “YES” to the “is this illegal” question! What a banner day.

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Lisa July 8, 2013 at 12:58 pm

lol

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RLS July 8, 2013 at 1:08 pm

hear, hear! There should be a “this is actually illegal” tag (or, “not even in California” tag)

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TheSnarkyB July 8, 2013 at 1:56 pm

Yes! Lol also, I love how you can always tell Alison’s answer before the end since she writes the titles. This one made me happy :)

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Another Ellie July 8, 2013 at 8:54 pm

Except most things are less likely to be legal in CA. I wish I could move back to my highly regulated and therefore fairer home state.

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ChristineSW July 8, 2013 at 2:10 pm

LOL I noticed that too!!

The whole situation sounds nuts. I’m in a protected class myself and would definitely not appreciate being told I had to room with someone not in my class, or even someone of a sub-division of my class.

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Natalie July 8, 2013 at 3:56 pm

I almost feel like we need an “Actually Illegal” gif or something.

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Editor July 8, 2013 at 11:16 pm

Wasn’t that outsourced to Grumpy Cat on the open thread?

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Ruffingit July 8, 2013 at 6:59 pm

LOL! Totally had that same thought.

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Marigold July 8, 2013 at 12:34 pm

Is sharing a room with a co-worker on a business trip normal? That seems weird to me. I’ve been on quite a few business trips and can’t imagine having to share a room with a co-worker.

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EnnVeeEl July 8, 2013 at 12:36 pm

This too! This organization is not only badly run – they’re CHEAP! Adults shouldn’t be expected to share rooms – this isn’t summer camp.

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Victoria Nonprofit July 8, 2013 at 12:51 pm

This is really, really normal in the nonprofit sector. I work for an affiliate of a very large, very well-funded, very well-known nonprofit and we and they are required to share hotels when we travel together for conferences/etc.

I agree that it’s BS. When you’re asking people to be away from home for work reasons, usually working longer-than-usual hours, I feel strongly that they should be put up in relative comfort. For most adults, that means not sharing a bedroom who isn’t a romantic partner. And it’s especially hard on introverts (for whom the whole conference is probably especially hard). But… it’s juts the norm. Sigh.

(At my org, if you feel you need your own hotel room you can pay for the difference yourself, or petition for an exception.)

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Victoria Nonprofit July 8, 2013 at 1:41 pm

A couple of things I thought of:

- We always room with folks of the same gender. So far, we haven’t had to cross the bridge of how to handle someone who doesn’t identify as male or female.

- We do get to choose who we stay with, as much as it is possible.

- The ED also shares a room.

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TheSnarkyB July 8, 2013 at 1:58 pm

Huh interesting. Have there ever been issues about sexual orientation? (i.e. “I don’t want to room with her bc what if she liiikkeess meeee eewww”)
I’m bi and I know people always freak out about this. Lol I’d love to get a room to myself! (were it not for the rampant biphobia and discrimination…)

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Anonymous July 8, 2013 at 2:02 pm

Don’t know about any issues, but sexual orientation is not a protected class in far too many states, and gender identity is a protected class in even less, so if you live in one of the 29 states where it’s perfectly legal to fire someone for being gay, you probably wouldn’t have a legal case about being discriminated against for your sexual orientation. That’s one of the reasons I’m happy to be Canadian, since I’m a lesbian. Though I have heard about someone at a summer camp who was complaining about being a counselor in a cabin with a gay co-counselor, and the one complaining was fired for their attitude.

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SCW July 8, 2013 at 2:47 pm

Even if it isn’t a protected class, you can still be fired for being a discriminating jerk. My county agency categorizes gender, sexual orientation, and genetic information as protected classes. Also companies that find people low on the totem pole as it were to fire for being discriminatory find it easier to keep upper level folks who are discriminatory because they can show that they made an effort to stop discrimination.

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Elizabeth West July 8, 2013 at 2:45 pm

LOL!
That’s dumb. I hate when people do that; like “I can’t hang out with your gay friend because he’s gay and he might take a shine to me.” Well, no, because idiots aren’t his type!

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Ruffingit July 8, 2013 at 6:08 pm

AMEN! I’m female and my college roommate was bisexual. She had a girlfriend that first year we roomed together. People assumed she was lesbian because she had the girlfriend and asked me a few times if it bothered me that I was rooming with a lesbian.

Didn’t bother me at all. Just as I’m not attracted to all men I meet, gay people are not attracted to all same-sex people they meet either.

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Victoria Nonprofit July 8, 2013 at 3:26 pm

Not as far as I know. We have a lot of out gay/lesbian/bi folks on staff and I haven’t been aware of any problems they’ve had with other staff people. But I’m not in a position that would receive accusations of discrimination or complaints from staff who weren’t comfortable with the sexual orientation of their roommate.

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Chinook July 8, 2013 at 5:19 pm

Honestly, I could not care less about the sexuality of the person I am sharing a room with. I care more about whether or not they snore and whether or not they will be freaked out when I scream in the middle of the night for no reason (night terrors are fun for everyone!)

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Cody C July 17, 2013 at 12:35 pm

Ha that’s funny. I was in a situation where my company sent me to training and my roommate was gay ( I imagine he still is) and snored like the midnight freight train! He is still one of the funniest nicest guys I have ever met and given the chance I would not go back and trade roommates.

EE July 8, 2013 at 10:15 pm

I know somebody who was sent with her male boss and male coworker to a conference by their employer. The company had booked them a one-room apartment!

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Librarian July 8, 2013 at 2:59 pm

Ugh, I’d hate to have to room with the ED! Or the library director in my case. Who has to room with the boss? That would be so awkward.

It’s generally the way of things in public libraries to share at conferences as well. The only time I got my own room was for a very subject specialty conference that I went to alone.

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Victoria Nonprofit July 8, 2013 at 3:27 pm

The worst roommate pairing I ever saw as a brand-new assistant being paired with his principal. Man, that sounded tough. (Both people in this example are super awesome and it turns out they get along great – but yikes, if I were an assistant I would sure want some time away from the person I assisted!)

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Zed July 8, 2013 at 3:50 pm

Academic libraries too. When I go to conferences, I either share with a coworker or a friend from graduate school. We’re not *required* to share, but sharing saves money for the university, and it is generally accepted procedure unless there is no alternative.

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fposte July 8, 2013 at 6:47 pm

I know I’ve also heard of places where they’ll cover up to the sharing price and you can pay the rest if you want a single room.

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Windchime July 8, 2013 at 8:39 pm

I had to room with my boss and another co-worker once years ago. In a room with two queen-sized beds. I immediately claimed one for myself and my boss and other co-worker had to share. It was awkward, to say the least. The next time we went out of town, we took a 4th co-worker and she and I insisted on having a separate room so we wouldn’t have to share beds. Sharing a room was bad enough–I don’t really need to see my boss in her slip.

I’m away from home on business now and posting from my private hotel room, even though I’m here with two other co-workers. Thank goodness my employer is fine with everyone having their own room. As an introvert, the last thing I want to do is deal with having to share a room with someone I barely know.

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The IT Manager July 9, 2013 at 9:42 am

Okay. That’s wierd. I don’t think sharing a room is wierd, but sharing beds that’s too much closeness. I’d object to that.

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Kelly July 9, 2013 at 10:41 am

I find even sharing a room with a co-worker weird. I can’t control night time sleeping farts!!! How am I going to face them the next day knowing they’ve heard one of my most private moments? What if I have a sexy dream and talk in my sleep? I don’t want to get fully dressed before I blow dry my hair – it gets too hot and sweaty. Noooo, I would pay for my own room in full before I would share with a co-worker.

Kara July 8, 2013 at 10:41 pm

This. I read this post earlier, and then came back to comment and ask this question. If its illegal to group roommates based on race, would it not also be illegal to group based on gender?

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Anonymous July 8, 2013 at 11:52 pm

I think it should be, but women can always pull the “I don’t feel safe sharing a room with a guy” comment, which to me is somewhat sexist anyway. If you think any guy is going to attack or do something to you, thats not right. I say women can pull that comment because they don’t really need any “reason” to not feel safe aside from the fact that its a guy. As a somewhat average size guy, if I was on a trip and had to share a room with a massive bodybuilder type guy, I don’t think the “I don’t feel safe” comment would work for me to get out of it. That is even though I’d say statistically there is a higher chance of a guy getting violently attacked by another guy than there is of a woman getting attacked by a guy.

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Perchance July 9, 2013 at 1:29 am

I think this is indicative of a much larger issue, but I don’t want to derail the discussion too much. But we’ve talked about The Gift of Fear here before…if one really feels fearful or unsafe in a situation, it’s a feeling to heed. If a straight, white, cis male truly felt unsafe with another straight, white, cis male who was a “massive bodybuilder type guy,” even if it’s ‘just a feeling,’ there might be something subconscious that tipped him off and it’s okay to follow that feeling. However, once the power balance between the two is shifted (whether by race, gender orientation, sexual orientation, etc.) it becomes a different issue.

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Perchance July 9, 2013 at 1:33 am

Sorry – I said different issue, but really I meant more complicated.

Anonymous July 9, 2013 at 8:30 am

It’s… sexist that women don’t want to be un/dressing or in their PJs around someone of the opposite sex that they don’t have a familial or intimate relationship with?

You’re also saying “pull” that comment as though it is obviously false. I think you have some issues of sexism that you need to address. Why are you assuming it’s a lie?

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Anonymous July 9, 2013 at 9:32 am

I never said its a lie. My point is that a woman doesn’t need a reason to say she doesn’t feel safe or even comfortable except the fact that its a man. Again, I think anyone can feel unsafe around anyone else, but I think in any other situation it wouldn’t be tolerated. As mentioned earlier, if a person had to share a room with a homosexual, and said they didn’t feel comfortable, it would be considered homophobic (although I’d argue just like homosexuals aren’t attracted to every member of the same sex, every man isn’t attracted to every woman). If a white guy said he didn’t feel comfortable sharing a room with a black guy because he was black, he’d be looked at as racist. In my office now, I’m better friends with some girls than guys, and may feel more “comfortable” sharing a room with them, but if I said that out loud, I’d be creepy.

Calla July 9, 2013 at 11:36 am

@Anonymous at 9:32am – women have plenty reason to not want to share a room with a man, unguarded while she’s asleep, that makes it different from a homophobe or racist. It is an understood meaning even if it’s not stated outright. And you may not like them, but they are different and valid reasons. (If you’re up to googling and reading, an article called “Shroedinger’s Rapist” deals with this and directly addresses the “would not be tolerated in any other situation” thing, iirc.)

Anonymous July 9, 2013 at 12:26 pm

My only point that is anyone can be unguarded by anyone else when they sleep. In the big bodybuilder example I used earlier, if that guy wanted to punch me as I slept or assault me in any other way, there is essentially the same physical power differential there. If a guy my same size wanted to do anything while I was sleep, he’d have a good shot at hurting me too even if it would be a fair fight in a normal situation. Its only different because society has decided its ok for women to have a certain level of fear (or caution if you prefer) around all men for the simple fact that they are men, that isn’t afforded to any other adult group. I’m not trying really to argue this to death, but as was my initial point, anyone has every right to say they aren’t comfortable with someone else, but for most situations, they wouldn’t be considered valid.

Lisa July 8, 2013 at 1:00 pm

I only agree with the , you should never force a woman to bunk with a man unless she is ok with it, and there is no pressure. men are fine with sharing rooms and most woman are ok with it, but honestly, let me choose who I am sharing a room with.

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Elizabeth July 8, 2013 at 12:42 pm

At my employer, yes. If there is another person of the same gender going on the same trip, we’re expected to share rooms.

At my husband’s employer, no.

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OliviaNOPE July 8, 2013 at 12:49 pm

We are expected to share as well, and my company isn’t exactly broke.

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AllisonD July 9, 2013 at 12:07 pm

What??? Sharing rooms? You need to re-consider the finanical solvency of your employer.

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Ask a Manager July 8, 2013 at 12:47 pm
Forrest July 8, 2013 at 9:48 pm

You always have the most off the wall comments on your earlier posts.

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Ask a Manager July 8, 2013 at 11:00 pm

I know — it’s weird looking back on it. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but now those old comments seems awfully tilted toward the weird.

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AP July 8, 2013 at 12:50 pm

I’ve never heard of this either, until I started reading AAM. Maybe it’s more common at non-profits where the emphasis is to spend money on their mission?

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Anonymous July 8, 2013 at 3:09 pm

Assuming there’s money to spend…

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Editor July 8, 2013 at 11:25 pm

My late husband traveled for business a lot in the 1980s and always had to share when there were two of them. It was always two guys, however. My guess would be that business travelers in the lower ranks have been asked to share rooms as long as motels offered rooms with two beds.

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anau87 (The OP) July 8, 2013 at 12:57 pm

It was a small business (more than 15 employees, though!), so, it was understandable, and in the scheme of things, was really like so low on the radar of things we had to complain about.

The CEO would brag how cheap the hotel rooms she would put us in were (we’re talking Motel 6 levels) while she stayed at 4/5-star hotel rooms at conferences. Obviously not illegal, but super not-cool.

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Ruffingit July 8, 2013 at 7:36 pm

Wow, she is sounding more and more wonderful by the minute . I’m really glad you got out of there and I hope your friend can soon do the same. The visa issue complicates things certainly, but this situation is just awful and I hate to think anyone is subjected to this kind of abuse.

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SB July 8, 2013 at 1:18 pm

My company does this. It’s even in the travel policy that people under a certain job band level have to room together if there is more than one person under the line going. There is a big conference coming up this fall that I am planning with the help of another assistant. We both have to go to make sure everything runs smoothly (basically we have to start working before breakfast and keep on working until all the activities for the day are done, usually after midnight when you factor in the post dinner drinks and mingling). The conference is for all the executives so we’ll be the only two sharing a room. To make matters worse it’s over a weekend, and I’ve never met the other assistant in person before.

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Editor July 8, 2013 at 11:31 pm

Could you ask one of the higher-ups if they could use points or some other upgrade (or authorize an exception) so the two of you have separate rooms or share a suite with separate places to sleep?

Can you sell the idea by saying that you’ll each be more efficient if you don’t wake each other or compete for the bathroom in order to get to your duties on time, and outline the work schedule you’ll have to drive the point home. Frankly, I think having to negotiate who gets to use the bathroom makes an open-and-shut case, but then, I am at the peon level also.

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Meg July 8, 2013 at 1:34 pm

This is actually really normal, especially for non-profits. It’s just a lot cheaper and non-profits tend to be on more of a budget(although at a previous nonprofit job, the only male in our department got to have his own room).

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AllisonD July 9, 2013 at 12:08 pm

No, this isn’t normal at all.

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Ask a Manager July 9, 2013 at 12:27 pm

Yes, it’s normal in nonprofits and some other industries.

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DEJ July 8, 2013 at 1:43 pm

It’s also pretty normal in higher education.

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Dr. Speakeasy July 8, 2013 at 2:22 pm

Yep. Although this is usually because we’re either paying out of pocket or picking up some of the expense out of pocket so we want to save money.

I tend to room with someone that I went to grad school with who works at a different university.

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Elizabeth July 8, 2013 at 7:14 pm

“Lower” education, too. I’m an elementary school teacher and when I’ve gone to retreats, week-long workshops, etc. I’ve shared a room. Often I’ve been the only person from my school going, so my roommate was a teacher from some other school that I’d never met before. It never really bugged me, though. I kind of liked getting to know a fellow teacher.

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Anonicorn July 8, 2013 at 1:54 pm

I’ve had to deal with it before, and it was indeed weird.

I was still quite new to my job when four of us (including my supervisor) were going to an out-of-town, overnight conference. Two rooms. The fourth person, who I was far more familiar and comfortable with, got sick the day before and couldn’t go. Not only did I room with an unfamiliar coworker because my supervisor claimed the single room without discussing it at all, I was also made to ride in the back seat the entire trip. I don’t think I’ve felt so much like a child since, well, actually being one.

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Jazzy Red July 8, 2013 at 2:04 pm

It was a policy of Sam Walton’s that everyone in the Wal-Mart organization shares rooms when traveling. And they got $10/day for food, no exceptions.

I think they’ve updated this policy since then, but it was in effect for at least 20 years.

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Virgnia July 8, 2013 at 3:21 pm

My brother currently works for Wal-Mart. Its typically two people to a room and what you get for food depends on the local price of food. Once he recieved $100 a day based on local options and on the next trip he had $50.

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Cathy July 8, 2013 at 2:32 pm

It’s common at large companies as well. Back in the 80s to mid-90s, IBM used to put 4 people (all the same gender) in a 2-bedroom condo when they sent us to the Education centers in Sandy Springs, GA or Irving, TX. They’d also put 2 in a hotel room for reward trips such as the SE Symposium and for some other education classes. The only time I ever didn’t have a roommate was when I traveled to visit a customer site.

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Elizabeth West July 8, 2013 at 2:43 pm

I worked for a large non-profit and yes, we shared rooms. I got to share one with my best friend, so it worked out okay.

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Anonymous July 8, 2013 at 7:02 pm

I had a job where they expected me to share a hotel room with a complete stranger. Not even “complete stranger from my company” – a complete stranger from a different company in a different country that happened to be attending the same conference.

What astounded me the most was that I was the only person out of ~50 attendees to decide this was nuts and get my own hotel room. The company did reimburse me for the hotel room after the fact. Ever since that experience, I have asked a lot of very specific questions about this kind of thing before attending a conference.

Same company, different (earlier) incident: I was also expected to share a bed with a co-worker at a conference once. I was naive and young so I just boggled and went along with it (fortunately, the other person was good friend of mine of many years, so it was only a little creepy). That time, I only found out about the bed issue after we arrived at the hotel and found out the room had less beds than we had people.

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V July 9, 2013 at 12:03 am

This is just too weird. Last year I backpacked around Europe for 6 weeks and stayed in ~ a dozen hostels with total strangers. I was totally fine with it, but that was my CHOICE.

I do not think companies should force their employees to room together, especially share beds. That is a privacy and hygiene issue.

I wouldn’t be comfortable sharing a hotel room with any coworker by virtue of them being a coworker and those relationships should remain professional.

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AG July 9, 2013 at 12:05 am

I work for a small startup and most people share rooms at conferences (except the CEO and VP). I haven’t gone to one yet but I imagine I will have to next year. I am not thrilled about the idea but I understand it.

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Mike C. July 8, 2013 at 12:45 pm

Make sure your coworker has hard copies of the emails and performance evaluation – and make it clear who else was copied on those emails and who was involved with the performance evaluation.

I would also alert ICE if the H1-B visa thing becomes an issue. Your coworker should be protected but I’d hate to see further complications down the road.

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littlemoose July 8, 2013 at 1:36 pm

And remove those hard copies from the office. Keep them in a safe place at home.

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anau87 (The OP) July 8, 2013 at 12:55 pm

Hello everyone (and Allison, and Erik),

Thank you so much for the comments. It feels so good to get an “outsider” looking-in, and my coworker is reading this blog right now to get herself through a bad day.

I can go on and on about other things that happened at this workplace–many focused on race-related decisions, but most other insane things not–but this is the one that bothered me the most, mainly because my friend is still stuck back there and it is hard for her to get another job while she is on a H1B1 visa … trust me, we both updated our resumes everyday!

My coworker has documented everything, even though the CEO refuses to let people see their performance evaluations. I don’t want to pressure her to pursue things through the law, but, I at least want her to know that the option is there, and certainly viable.

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Mike C. July 8, 2013 at 1:08 pm

To the OP’s cowrker:

DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT!!

Write down anything that comes to mind, specific decisions, dates/times and anyone who was witness to the actions (in person, on the phone, cc’ed on emails, etc). Get hard copies if you can, or digital copies. If this is an ongoing issue then every situation will be more and more evidence that will help you out later.

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Erik H. July 8, 2013 at 2:03 pm

I am a lawyer but I AM NOT a California lawyer. That said:

If the employer won’t let you see your personnel file (which should include your evaluations) that seems like a problem. You might want to read this:

http://www.dir.ca.gov/dlse/faq_righttoinspectpersonnelfiles.htm

In particular, you might want to scroll down and read FAQ #7. Performance appraisals are specifically listed.

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anau87 (The OP) July 8, 2013 at 2:29 pm

Thanks; actually in MA here.

The CEO managed performance reviews by writing them down (they’d be 10 pages long on average, always negative. No one remembered ever getting a positive review) and then giving employees 15 minutes to read them before she called them into her office. During those 15 minutes, I suggested to my coworker that she scan it for her own records, which she did. I felt uncomfortable that she had to use the office printer, but, I figured it was better than nothing.

They were the worst performance reviews ever, by the way. Not really a surprise.

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TheSnarkyB July 8, 2013 at 2:13 pm

I understand not wanting to pressure her, but especially with immigration issues in play, my biggest concern would be that if she doesn’t pursue the law, she might find herself stuck in it anyway and playing catch up.
I wish I could say that it sounds like she can keep her head down and stay in the job, but getting fired doesn’t sound like it’s out of the question here, and the CEO sounds like she’s threatening her bc of visa status… A bleak outlook :(
I’m sorry she’s going through this and that you were there too – I second the “Document, Document, Document” advice. Just so that if she ends up on the wrong side of a legal battle, she can right herself more easily and quickly (i.e. counter-claims, etc).

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anau87 (The OP) July 8, 2013 at 2:22 pm

Yeah; trust me, she’s reading this thread and, if at a very least, she’s enjoying the fact that other people can appreciate the lunacy of the situation.

I’ve thought about it, and I’m pretty sure the CEO won’t fire her because, well, it’s so easy for at least this to become a “thing.” She went to her “other CEO friends” who actually said that my coworker was in the wrong for insubordination and using workplace equipment to organize against the company, but, it was also clear that she was, somehow, somewhat embarrassed momentarily at the situation.

That is why, during my exit interview, the CEO spent 75% of the time not figuring out why I was leaving, but trying to get information against my coworker that could be used against her. She even forced me to walk in the rain to her anniversary dinner with her husband in hopes that I would spill the beans of information to get this coworker fired!

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Pussyfooter July 8, 2013 at 3:21 pm

Even if the CEO wants to keep your friend on the job and push her around. The more your friend is not assigned tasks usual for her position, accumulates negative reviews, and is not gaining positive work history, the more this job weakens her future job prospects.
She needs to contact someone knowledgeable about what happens to her visa status if she quits/is fired, as well as looking for other jobs.

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anau87 (The OP) July 8, 2013 at 3:59 pm

I’ve worried about this too, and, more than a lot of the issues outlined in the comments section, this was why I decided I need to get out.

We’ve found ways to gain positive work experiences, mainly because the CEO has decided to micro-manage everyone (there are no “middle-level managers,” with the exception of two coworkers, it’s all people with 1-5 years of experience + CEO of the company for 40 years) as well as authors, vendors, etc., that you do have a lot of time where no one was giving you work tasks. But then, priorities would change all of a sudden. Thankfully, the CEO liked me enough that I was able to act as a sponge for her criticism enough (my coworker and I were the only two marketing people) that we were able to start a lot of new initiatives that brought in good amounts of revenue.

But I also agree; the CEO has a bad reputation in its industry, and definitely makes answering the “So, why are you leaving your current job?” or “Give me an example of when you did X at your current job” questions during interviews verbal gymnastics.

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AB July 8, 2013 at 5:51 pm

I work with many people with H1B visas, and there is no reason for your friend to be in the dark about her options. There are LOTS of reputable websites explaining how things work, and how it’s possible to quickly get a H1B visa transfer if she finds another job. Remember, knowledge is power.

Lots of company don’t hire visa holders because of the bureaucracy involved, but many international companies and consulting firms do, and for them it would be relatively simple to get a visa transfer.

If your friend target employers who normally hire H1B professionals, it may not be too difficult to find another position (like anyone else, it’s always best to be looking while you are still employed, as employers consider people with a job more attractive, not to mention that it’s possible but much more difficult to request an extension of visa status after a layoff).

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EngineerGirl July 8, 2013 at 9:23 pm

Technically you have 1 day to find another job. And 10 to get out of the country. You hear longer tomes but that is mostly because it takes some time for the Feds to catch up.
Legally a transfer is the only option. If the CEO fires her then she has to pay the airfare back. It could be that her inherent cheapness is protecting the employee, as a 10 day fare is NOT cheap, even in economy.

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AB July 8, 2013 at 10:05 pm

Right — I know of some exceptions of people who were granted an extension while negotiating a new job, but the safest route is definitely a transfer (and it’s so much easier to find another job while you are employed, that this should be the goal anyway).

anau87 (The OP) July 8, 2013 at 10:32 pm

Trust me …. the “she is such a cheapo” that she won’t want to pay a 10-day fare has definitely come up in conversations.

Elizabeth West July 8, 2013 at 2:48 pm

Good luck, coworker! I hope this crazy CEO gets her comeuppance. *crosses fingers and toes*

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A Teacher July 8, 2013 at 1:01 pm

WOW! That was my response to reading the post. Good luck to your friend!

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Joey July 8, 2013 at 1:02 pm

Thats not a very good analogy. Thats separating, this is the opposite-its more like forcing blacks and whites to sit on alternating seats. Sort of affirmative action to the extreme.

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Liz T July 8, 2013 at 1:08 pm

I know what you mean–honestly, I was surprised to learn that forced *integration* was illegal. I’d be interested in hearing more about that, and what the case law is.

But yes, the CEO is definitely a crazy person.

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TheSnarkyB July 8, 2013 at 2:15 pm

Forced integration is not illegal (look at the school system). It’s a matter of how it’s done and how it’s prescribed and enacted. It’s about how you integrate, not that you integrate. For instance, it’s illegal to have an intentionally all-white office. So therefore “forced integration” can’t be illegal because those two laws would be in direct conflict.

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Liz T July 8, 2013 at 2:47 pm

Right–I’d like to know the specifics of “how it’s done and how it’s prescribed and enacted” that would make it illegal. How does this cross the line, legally, from affirmative action to discrimination? I doubt there’s a “this CEO sounds like a maniac so it’s discrimination” law.

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Ask a Manager July 8, 2013 at 11:09 pm

Affirmative action is only legal in a small number of narrowly defined cases, and must be done in very specific ways. It’s also intended to address a major structural inequity. It’s not the same as something like what this CEO is doing.

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BCW July 8, 2013 at 1:22 pm

Agreed. Something about that analogy seemed off to me, but you nailed it. It is forced inclusion, not forced separation.

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Forrest July 8, 2013 at 1:23 pm

I was kind of confused by the analogy and wanted to be like “did they misread it?:

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RG July 8, 2013 at 1:49 pm

But it’s still a decision made on the basis of race, regardless of an intended positive or negative outcome. The bus analogy doesn’t disadvantage anyone, but it’s making a decision based on the race of the individuals, which is the prohibition.

Affirmative action is still discrimination, and really only an (official) option in a few specific instances (federally hiring and contracts and university admission) and even in the latter, it’s taken into consideration and not a box to check.

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Joey July 8, 2013 at 1:54 pm

Yes it is, but his argument is based on segregation which this is not.

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Ask a Manager July 8, 2013 at 11:10 pm

Exactly — the issue is making workplace decisions based on race.

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FiveNine July 8, 2013 at 5:22 pm

Yes, I was so confused when I read the analogy whether the lawyer quoted here had been conveyed an accurate description of the scenario, and as someone with no legal background, I still am unsure.

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Ask a Manager July 8, 2013 at 6:23 pm

He was responding to the letter itself, same as what was printed here.

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Kou July 8, 2013 at 7:15 pm

Decisions are being made based on race, I don’t think it gets a pass just because people are being mixed instead of sorted. “Jill and Jane have to room together because they are both white” isn’t a massive stretch off “Jill and Jane have to room together because one is white and one is Asian.” We have a greater historical context for segregation, but that doesn’t mean different kinds of racial mandates are somehow better.

Which I assume is not what you mean, but rather that the analogy is off because they’re too different. The attorney is intentionally using the emotional relationship we already have with the concept of segregation to highlight exactly how this type of arrangement is indeed discriminatory despite not being a textbook example.

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Katie the Fed July 8, 2013 at 1:04 pm

So, not quite as bad as this, but speaking of race issues –

Last year I was giving a briefing to a very senior person in my government agency. There were two briefers – me, a white female, and a guy of Indian origins (born in America and as American as apple pie).

So the briefing finishes and the senior stops and asks the other briefer where he’s from. He responds “New Jersey.” Clearly he knows where this is going. She asks “no, but where are you FROM?” and he says “New Jersey. Are you wondering about my ethnicity?” and she says yes, and he says “my parents were from India” and she goes into this long, very excited speech about how WONDERFUL it is that we’re hiring more people from that part of the world, and how GREAT diversity is and she’s sooooo pleased to see people like him working there.

Meanwhile, I just sat there. Um, diversity is wonderful. But making a bit scene about it is just uncomfortable for everyone. He was so embarrassed.

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Rob Aught July 8, 2013 at 1:10 pm

That is ridiculous.

Working in technology, I come across a lot of Indians. They are a very diverse group. I worked with someone similar to what you described. He was born in the US but his family was from India and his wife was from India.

He liked to tag along with us at lunch because it was the only time he could get a hamburger. He really liked Red Robin.

Sadly, I initially stereotyped him and was trying to find lunch places more “ethnically appropriate”. I have since learned to ask upfront and not assume anything. Even when we try to be sensitive in our assumptions, we can still make bad ones.

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Elizabeth West July 8, 2013 at 2:56 pm

Secret hamburgers. Am I bad that this made me giggle? I pictured him like a secret smoker, who brushes his teeth before leaving work and has mouthwash in his desk.

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Katie the Fed July 8, 2013 at 4:06 pm

I had a boss who was vegetarian by night, carnivore by day. His wife insisted they both be vegetarians, so at work he’d always go buy burgers and chicken and other meat. Then carefully brush and floss to make sure there was no lingering meat smell.

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Rob Aught July 8, 2013 at 11:48 pm

I kind of felt like an accomplice to some kind of crime, but I really liked the guy and he was a fellow consultant.

Since he was a local and I was a traveller, he had to pay for his own meals. When I took him to lunch I always covered his check out of my meal allowance. So I guess I was an accomplice and an enabler.

Good influence, that’s me!

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Liz T July 8, 2013 at 1:11 pm

Ugh. That is a sadly typical exchange.

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Lora July 8, 2013 at 1:27 pm

Haha, one of my reports has Chinese parents, and when people ask where he’s from he tells them, “San Francisco.” One of our colleagues was chatting about Diversity one day, and he told her, “I drive a pickup truck, listen to country music and vacation in Maine. I’m whiter than you!”

OP, I’m sorry you’re going through this, it sounds crummy. But I have to say, if it’s the CEO, it’s going to be awfully hard to fight unless the company has a board of directors or someone to get control of the situation.

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Chinook July 8, 2013 at 2:23 pm

Hmm…a guy who listens to country music, drives a pick up and is from San Franscisco? That sounds pretty diverse to me (atleast vs. the sterotype of San Fransicoers I have in my head).

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LJL July 8, 2013 at 2:52 pm

Along those lines, this video was making the rounds earlier this year: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DWynJkN5HbQ I enjoyed the take on it.

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Ruffingit July 8, 2013 at 7:55 pm

That reminds me of this episode of Designing Women with Henry Cho. Forward it to 00:56 and play from there. Hilarious!!

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Ruffingit July 8, 2013 at 7:55 pm

Whoops. Here’s the link to the Henry Cho video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MeKFNisCatA

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fposte July 8, 2013 at 1:37 pm

I think it was somebody here who posted a link to this great satiric video about just this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DWynJkN5HbQ

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Liz T July 8, 2013 at 2:52 pm

That video’s amazing! Thanks for the link.

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SCW July 8, 2013 at 2:53 pm

I was just going to look for this when I saw that comment!

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LJL July 8, 2013 at 2:58 pm

Great minds think alike! Alison, you can disallow my comment since fposte has posted the same thing. :-)

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fposte July 8, 2013 at 3:36 pm

I probably got it from you in the first place :-).

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Katie the Fed July 8, 2013 at 3:40 pm

Ha! I love that!

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Jane July 8, 2013 at 1:49 pm

A part of me was really hoping your coworker would have answered “Off the Turnpike, exit something”

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Heather July 8, 2013 at 2:08 pm

That would have been amazing. “Oh, of course, you mean what exit am I from! You want Parkway or Turnpike?”

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Chinook July 8, 2013 at 2:21 pm

I had a corworker who ran into the same problem. She is of Chinese descent and would be asked where she was from and answer “Calgary.” Then she would be asked where her parents were born. “Calgary.” The real obstinate and clueless ones would go one further and aske where her grandparents were born. “Calgary.”

She said it was equally annoying to get these questions from the Chinese immigrants who owned a local restaurant but atleast they would give her free spring rolls whenever she went there.

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Liz T July 8, 2013 at 2:54 pm

Free spring rolls do take the edge off.

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Xay July 8, 2013 at 3:03 pm

I get the same thing when people notice my South African name. Where I am from? North Carolina (although my mom is an immigrant). I’ve had a prepared 5 minute synopsis of my family tree since I was 12.

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Ash July 8, 2013 at 2:46 pm

It’s like when Tom Halverford on Parks & Rec gets asked that question.

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the gold digger July 8, 2013 at 3:00 pm

Exactly! I was thinking, “South Carolina. That’s where he’s from.”

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V July 8, 2013 at 4:28 pm

I am Indian, but born and raised in the USA and it is SO ANNOYING when people ask where I’m from and want me to say India. To be “from” somewhere you must have lived there at some point.

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Zahra July 8, 2013 at 4:37 pm

When I’m feeling particularly snarky, I’ll turn the question back on them and not take any North-American-based answer. I’ll push and prod until they tell me which European country(ies) their family comes from and whether they have some Native American blood.

If I’m charitable, I’ll ask them, “Now imagine being asked that question regularly for X years. Wouldn’t you have days when you’re sick and tired of it?” (X being my age.)

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V July 8, 2013 at 5:31 pm

Love it! I think I’m going to start using that.

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Elizabeth July 8, 2013 at 7:26 pm

Have you seen this video? It’s basically that strategy.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DWynJkN5HbQ

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SW July 8, 2013 at 5:23 pm

I don’t like that question because it reminds me that people will never consider me truly American, because I am yellow.

I love this essay for explaining it so well: http://rootlesswonder.wordpress.com/2013/01/19/but-where-are-you-really-from/

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Katie the Fed July 8, 2013 at 7:45 pm

I like this. I think what bothered me the most about the exchange was that it had nothing to do with the briefing we’d given. She just focused in on his race and didn’t want to discuss anything else. I mean, celebrating diversity is good. But you don’t have to, like, CELEBRATE it.

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Editor July 8, 2013 at 11:51 pm

If a person really appreciates diversity, they treat diverse people just like everyone else and see all the degrees of difference — because they value diversity, not novelty. The senior employee’s reaction was more like, “I see shiny!” Except, in this case, shiny was brown.

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Rosalita July 9, 2013 at 12:57 pm

Thanks for sharing that. I’m Asian as well. My brother works at a high end resort in the South. A guest once asked him, “where are from?” My brother replied, “I’m from Boston.” The guest said, “Boston, China?”

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Cadie July 8, 2013 at 5:34 pm

I’m half Japanese and I have gotten all of the following, AT WORK:
- “What are you?”
- “No offense but you look kind of Asian.”
- “Not to be racist but that haircut makes you look more Asian.”
- “Do you speak Chinese?” (This was a new coworker’s super awkward approach to finding out whether I was half Asian.)

For some reason it’s way worse at work than in the rest of the world…

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Lora July 9, 2013 at 10:51 am

“What are you?”
Wow. That is kind of an unintentionally profound question there. What am I? A human? A collection of molecules? A consciousness of electrical impulses?

You are not your job. You are not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your f’in khakis. You’re the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world. -Chuck Palaniuk

What do you tell em? I mean, I’d have a really hard time holding in the snark.

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Anonymous July 8, 2013 at 1:08 pm

This sounds like its possible she was trying to encourage diversity and mixing things up among co-workers, but just did it in a horrible way. If your company is very much divided along racial lines, which I have definitely seen before, I can somewhat understand the thought behind it. I can see how it could look bad if all the white people are rooming together, eating together, and socializing separately from all of the Asian people. But I think then she should have been smarter about how she worded it, or just assigned people herself.

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anau87 (The OP) July 8, 2013 at 1:12 pm

Yeah …. the “divided along race lines” thing is not a problem. Most of us were out of college, had studied foreign languages, and had lived abroad [and all of us spoke Chinese!], so, it wasn’t anything like that.

The CEO told my coworker that it had to be done to “live our mission statement” (I don’t know if I should include this, out of fear of identifying the company.)

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Anonymous July 8, 2013 at 1:16 pm

Fair enough. I once had a job where about half the employees were latino, and the other half were a mix. The Latino’s definitely tended to hang out together more and do there own thing. So I was just saying those problems do exist and if it was the case, trying to do something about it isn’t the worst thing. But since it sounds like thats not the case, then yeah, just bad management in general.

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fposte July 8, 2013 at 1:25 pm

Trying to do something about in a way that breaks the law is a bad thing.

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TheSnarkyB July 8, 2013 at 2:21 pm

Yeah, fposte I’m with you (and I usually am!).
It’s the way they tried to do something about it. And also, OP I’m not saying this was true in your CEO’s case, these things tend to have a major air of condescension to them. Like, us white people need to stop excluding the (X group). Whereas often, it’s happening on both sides. Yes, white people need to recognize their racial privilege. And X people (if they’re a minority or marginalized group) don’t have the discrimination power/social power that whites have, but it’s always so hilarious when white people are all shocked find out that the X groupers on the other side of it weren’t dying to sit with them at lunch anyway. It’s almost Mean Girlsish..

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Chinook July 8, 2013 at 2:31 pm

I do have to agree that the CEO does seem to have an air of condescension by implying that the white people need to be forced to play with others, but only because the CEO seems to belong to the other group.

As for minority/marginalized groups not having the power to discriminate, I think it all depends on the reality of the situation. I swear that it is a given that white people aren’t allowed to have a seat on some of the bus routes where I am because you can have 5 of us standing, waiting for the bus, have the bus arrive, have 60-80 from the local minority group appear out of thin air (most of them have been sitting in their warm cars), push past those waiting and then have those same 5 people being the only ones without a seat. And if you ask for a seat because you have a cast on the foot, they will look at you like you have 2 heads. It would be funny if it didn’t make me start to feel like an angry redneck after a while.

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Anonymous July 8, 2013 at 3:05 pm

Not getting a seat on the bus because other people beat you to it isn’t discrimination.

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Xay July 8, 2013 at 3:30 pm

+1

Rana July 8, 2013 at 3:33 pm

+1

SW July 8, 2013 at 4:41 pm

+1

COT July 8, 2013 at 6:28 pm

+1

TheSnarkyB July 8, 2013 at 8:50 pm

+40 acres and a mule

Anonymous July 8, 2013 at 4:14 pm

That’s not even a cool story, bro.

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SW July 8, 2013 at 4:43 pm

Yeah, no. That’s rude behavior, but it is not discrimination.

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Just a Reader July 8, 2013 at 5:03 pm

Also…holy racist story.

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Katie the Fed July 8, 2013 at 7:49 pm

1) Rosa Parks just turned over in her grave

2) Probably the people you are talking about are from a culture, probably eastern, where people don’t wait in line. It’s jarring when you travel to a place like China, but that’s what it is – people just don’t wait in line and consider it rude if you’d insist they wait behind you because you were there first. So the pushing and everyone rushing – that’s just the culture. If you have an issue with it then stick out your elbows and start shoving.

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fposte July 8, 2013 at 8:23 pm

There are Western European places like that, too. Queueing behavior can be very localized in cultural–even from city to nearby small town. (And now I’m reminded of two visits to Stockholm ten years apart and discovering they’d all learned how to jaywalk in the interim :-).)

Katie the Fed July 8, 2013 at 9:31 pm

I honestly had a meltdown in China once. I was just. so. sick. of people shoving into me all the time. I felt like I spent all day, every day, getting beaten up. I was at a post office and everyone was rushing and shoving at the counter and I kind of flipped out and was trying to hold people back behind me, because, by God I was there first and it was insanity! I laugh about it now, but at the time I wanted to curl up in a ball and cry. You don’t realize how used you are to your own cultural norms until you travel to really exotic places. :)

Bleh July 8, 2013 at 10:53 pm

I love how you said that Rosa Parks just turned over in her grave, and then assumed that the poster was talking about “eastern people.” love the cognitive dissonance in your post.

Katie the Fed July 9, 2013 at 12:13 am

I’m not sure you know what cognitive dissonance means, based on your comment here.

But what I actually said is that the people were probably from a culture where people didn’t wait in line. Yes, probably eastern, because there’s a distinct east-west different in the cultural aspect of waiting in line.

And, Chinook lives in Canada, where Asians are the largest minority group.

Sophia July 8, 2013 at 6:11 pm

Isn’t interesting that the Latinos are signaled out in this scenario rather than saying “all the white people tended to hang together”

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Bleh July 8, 2013 at 10:48 pm

THANK YOU FOR POINTING THIS OUT

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Anonymous July 8, 2013 at 11:25 pm

I was the one who posted that. And as I said, HALF of the staff was Latino, and HALF was a mix of other races. I’m black myself, so was a member of that other group. So yes, the Latinos did separate themselves. The blacks, whites, and Asians who were there actually intermixed very well. Whats wrong with pointing that out?

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Caffeine Queen July 8, 2013 at 7:57 pm

Sometimes, though, it’s nice to hang out with someone of your own culture who also speaks your mother tongue. However, that doesn’t mean they have no interest in hanging out with you-and even if they really don’t, who cares? Everyone is drawn to people who remind them of something familiar. Besides, there are more effective ways of getting people to mix and mingle without singling them out by race.

I do work for a company that does maintain a commitment to recruiting competent people from all backgrounds-you see women, people of color, people with disabilities, men, LGBTQ people, etc. at all levels of the company. It’s not because they were forced to share a hotel room with each other.

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Anonymous July 8, 2013 at 11:27 pm

I get that, but when groups are segregated like that, its just not a good look. I don’t care what the breakdown is.

Aside from that, I find it funny that questions on here that are about “cliques” come up fairly often, and most people think those are bad. However when you just change the semantics to make “clique” into a “cultural group” then its fine because they are bonding over their native tongue. The end effect is the exact same.

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Caffeine Queen July 9, 2013 at 9:56 am

All the same, it’s not middle school. And, if you’re at a restaurant, it’s usually pretty casual-usually, that happens when you’re on your break or you’re folding silverware. Not exactly a gala. Besides, like I said, you can get people to mix and mingle without treating them like fifth graders who still think the opposite sex has cooties.

Also, yes, it’s different when it’s your culture group. If you grow up in a country where your culture and language are not represented and have to spend every day thinking in a language that doesn’t come instinctually to you-you bet you’re going to find someone who relates to you. Not to mention that, in a lot of cases, when you’re in the minority, you’re very conscious of the stereotypes people hold of you and you’re likely to hold tight to what’s familiar. It’s really not a clique in the same respect. And, if it is, who cares? We’re not in high school anymore.

When I was overseas, I did my best to mix and mingle with people from the country I was staying in. However, it was oddly refreshing to see a fellow American when I did. Or an Italian (one of my parents is an Italian immigrant and it is a strong cultural tie for me). I can understand that pull.

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Bleh July 9, 2013 at 12:24 pm

Maybe you should ask yourself what you and your non-latino coworkers could’ve done to integrate the group a little more. Situations like these are usually a two-way street, and are based on a lot of cultural and power dynamics than just, such-and-such ethnic group doesn’t like the rest of us.

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Lindsay J July 10, 2013 at 1:00 am

I don’t think anyone here has suggested forcibly splitting up the cliques, or suggested that something must be done about them, either.

If you’re missing out on work assignments due to your race, that’s one thing. If you’re mad that the same group of people sit together in the same spot in the break room every day, that’s another.

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EnnVeeEl July 8, 2013 at 1:13 pm

But it’s just…odd. And unnecessary. The OP posted again, and as we all suspected, there are other issues here too. Sounds like a pretty crappy place to work.

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Elizabeth West July 8, 2013 at 2:57 pm

Regardless of her motives, she’s still a horrific manager and a crazy idiot.

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Ruffingit July 9, 2013 at 11:26 am

+1

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Escritora July 8, 2013 at 1:33 pm

The CEO sounds weapons-grade stupid. Just out of curiosity, were there any specific instructions for the biracial employees? Did they have to pick a side, or go with a third option? Or are they reserved for the wild card if you run out of people who are “monoracial”?

Sorry you and your friend are going through this!

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fposte July 8, 2013 at 1:33 pm

Mixed-race people had to sleep in the hall.

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TheSnarkyB July 8, 2013 at 2:21 pm

HahahahhahHAHAHHhahahaha!!
+100000 (and I’m mixed)

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literateliz July 8, 2013 at 6:54 pm

LOL I’m glad I’m not the only mixed person who had this exact reaction. Gallows humor?

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littlemoose July 8, 2013 at 1:43 pm

+1 for the term “weapons-grade stupid.” Hilarious and sadly appropriate.

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AMG July 8, 2013 at 1:44 pm

And now I will be describing people (when applicable) as ‘weapons-grade stupid’. I was thinking of calling the CEO an Assclown, but this is way better.

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anau87 (The OP) July 8, 2013 at 1:49 pm

“Weapons-grade stupid,” heh, I like that one.

I don’t really know how to follow up with sounding ludicrous/outrageous. One of my Taiwanese coworkers was dating someone from Ethiopia, and well, the CEO decided to gossip about it/make fun of her boyfriend and her decision to date someone from a different race until that person quit.

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Elle D July 8, 2013 at 2:02 pm

This manager is the worst. She’s forcing employees to intermingle across racial lines so the company projects a certain public image, but thinks it is acceptable to verbally harass employees about holding meaningful interpersonal relationships with people of other races in their private lives? That is awful, and definitely shows there is a pattern of offensive behavior beyond the one incident you wrote in about.

I’m glad you found another job OP, and I hope your friend is able to find something else soon.

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Elle D July 8, 2013 at 2:04 pm

I just realized it could sound like I thought intermingling across racial lines with co-workers is awful – this is a weird situation and I didn’t know how to describe it and that came out wrong. It seems like the OP’s co-workers didn’t need to be assigned to a room by race and were co-existing together just fine without the manager’s odd and inappropriate request from the original letter – that’s what I was referring to.

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TheSnarkyB July 8, 2013 at 2:23 pm

Don’t worry – it came across the way you meant it! (I mean, that’s my opinion, but I can’t be the only one)

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Anonymous July 8, 2013 at 3:21 pm

She basically created a hostile environment for that person…

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Heather July 8, 2013 at 2:10 pm

Another +1 for weapons-grade stupid – I REALLY needed an alternative to “dumb as a box of rocks”…

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Elizabeth West July 8, 2013 at 2:59 pm

I must use “weapons-grade stupid” at least once today. +10

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Lisa July 8, 2013 at 8:13 pm

Add me to the list of people who are stealing the phrase “weapons-grade stupid”.

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Ruffingit July 9, 2013 at 11:28 am

Another thief of weapons-grade stupid chiming in. I must use this phrase, it is just so efficient and perfect.

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Joey July 8, 2013 at 1:38 pm

I’m not so sure either case would survive. If you can’t point to a harm I don’t think most courts would take the time to do it for you.

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Ask a Manager July 8, 2013 at 11:16 pm

The retaliation is very clear cut though, and retaliation is usually a lot easier to prove than discrimination itself. Plus, retaliation suits are allowed even when the employee just *thought* they were complaining about something that was discrimination, and even if the court ultimately finds that it didn’t rise to that level, the retaliation claim can still go forward.

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littlemoose July 8, 2013 at 1:50 pm

As I was reading the OP’s letter, all I could think was: “Illegal! So very illegal!” I think Alison and Erik have given a great explanation and outlined the OP’s reasonable options. I hope it is reported, because this kind of thinking – especially the “I’m a minority so this rule can’t mean me” – is inappropriate. I just wanted to add that your state’s bar association is also a good place to start in looking for an attorney. Because your coworker has the added complexity of a work visa issue, a lawyer who specializes in employment is probably a better choice than a general practitioner. A good employment lawyer will be familiar with both issues, and it is probably a good idea for the coworker to ask about the attorney’s knowledge in handling work visa issues upfront, before committing to representation.

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Jim July 8, 2013 at 2:24 pm

Very odd behaviour, but could it just be a big misunderstanding? I work for a large corporate in the UK and there are 150 in my department 100 based in one office and 50 in offices all over the country when we have conferences we make the seating plan so people sit near people they don’t normally know. Maybe that’s what the CEO was trying to achieve, why she wouldn’t explain it on a less offensive way I don’t know.

The theats and retaliation are something else, there’s no excuse for that at all.

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Chinook July 8, 2013 at 2:37 pm

But seating someone next to someone they don’t know or from another office is different than seating them by ethnicity. I have a very multicutlural office but I mostly work with those who look/sound differently from me. In fact, the “locals” are the ones I don’t normally interact with (except for the one who probably did a presentation when I was in junior high back home, but that just goes to prove how small the population was around here at one time).

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anau87 (The OP) July 8, 2013 at 2:40 pm

Yeah … that’s not what’s happening here. In a small company, with a small number of people, we all knew each other fairly well. We were also all on the same page of trying to make the worse out of a bad situation, so even when personalities clashed, we tended to stick together.

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Pussyfooter July 8, 2013 at 3:43 pm

Ugh. Op, maybe I’m way off, but the image of your CEO I’m left with is like one of those Chinese millionaires who go to classes to learn how not to be crass, overbearing and socially backward. Except that she’s unaware of the need for any class, so continues to think that part of being rich is flaunting her power by pushing around anyone with less social sway than her. What a jerk.

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anau87 (The OP) July 8, 2013 at 3:51 pm

I’d say very accurate, except want to point out she was raised in America!

There’s some Chinese co-workers (not Chinese-American) who have said they had quite bad bosses in China who make decisions based on appearances/ethnicity, but, never combined it with rage, apathy, micro-management, and a liberal dash of neuroticism.

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Pussyfooter July 8, 2013 at 3:58 pm

How multicultural of her to combine the worst of both heritages!

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Anonymous July 8, 2013 at 4:47 pm

Honest question, are you Chinese?

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Pussyfooter July 9, 2013 at 4:24 am

Nope. Heinz 57.

But I love fu bats with peaches, and the insight of Emperor Chin mandating that all roads be changed to one width (even though he was probably horrible to live under) and I’m gonna ramble about history if I don’t shut up now.

On the radio last week, I heard about these classes. Newly wealthy Chinese are seeking them out because the way some business leaders act when travelling to foreign countries sometimes rubs people the wrong way. Apparently, struggling under brutal, corrupt officials and business people to claw their way to success sometimes leaves people with the idea that once you’re on top, you’re supposed to throw your weight around and sustain your worth by treating subordinates like trash. Go figure. It’s just a recurring human misstep throughout history–nothing especially Chinese about it.

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Anonymous July 9, 2013 at 9:38 am

If you’re not Chinese, what makes you think it’s appropriate to declare something “the worst” of Chinese heritage (solely because you heard something on the radio you thought was silly, that you now admit you don’t even think is particular to Chinese heritage)?

fposte July 8, 2013 at 6:51 pm

Crazy knows no national boundaries.

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Bleh July 8, 2013 at 10:56 pm

You are way off. One could even say that you’re stereotyping based on one person’s bad behavior.

It’s nice to see all the support for the question asker and his or her coworker, but the casual racism – present in a significant number of these comments – needs to stop.

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Pussyfooter July 9, 2013 at 4:28 am

Please see above response to Anonymous.
Just because something happens in China doesn’t mean it is racist to mention the fact that some Chinese people are currently experiencing it.

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Anonymous July 9, 2013 at 9:40 am

However, it IS racist to say “I heard about this thing in China, so I am going to assume your Chinese-American boss is probably following it, and also I’m going to say it’s the worst of Chinese heritage.”

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Bleh July 9, 2013 at 12:19 pm

Your clarification helps, but just because there’s been a report about some Chinese CEOs doing this, doesn’t make it right to generalize that among a whole culture.

You might also want to check your characterization of these classes. What reads as a class that teaches a certain ethnicity not to be “crass, overbearing, and socially backward” might read as a completely different thing within their own culture, and might just be a result of inter-cultural difference.

Seriously, that comment on its own read as, “most Chinese millionaires are socially backward etc., and that’s their culture,” and that’s what I took issue with.

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Pussyfooter July 9, 2013 at 7:08 pm

You are putting words in my mouth which I did not say and mischaracterizing my statements. Please reread and reconsider your first impressions.

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Anonymous July 9, 2013 at 7:43 pm

Please rephrase your comments so they’re not racist and you won’t have this problem.

Ask a Manager July 9, 2013 at 7:56 pm

Okay, let’s end this. Thank you.

TychaBrahe July 8, 2013 at 3:29 pm

I’m really hungry. I’d like to go to lunch. But all the Black people are busy at the moment, so I have to sit here and wait until one is available.

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Tina Career Counselor July 8, 2013 at 3:36 pm

Given that the answer to most of the “Is this legal?” questions that Alison gets is “Yes it is”, Alison probably enjoyed being able to say “No, it’s not legal” for a change.

This CEO sounds dreadful on so many levels.

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TychaBrahe July 8, 2013 at 3:51 pm

Actually, this reminds me of a test of a jet fuel additive that was supposed to help reduce fire during plane crashes. It was called the Controlled Impact Demonstration, but since the object was to remote-pilot a jumbo jet full of manikins over the California High Desert and then crash it into the ground, it was quickly nicknamed “Crash in Desert.”

So they got the jet and the manikins arrived. And they fit all these manikins into the seats. And then someone noticed that all the manikins were White. This was a problem, obviously, because when you’re burning wooden people, you have to do it in a racially diverse way. So they ordered a bunch of Black manikins.

Black manikins arrive. They open the tail end of the jet again (easier than loading from the front if you’re not coming down a Jetway) and haul out half the manikins, replacing them with the newly arrived Black manikins.

They’re ready for the non-discriminating crash, and then they notice that all of the Black manikins are sitting at the back of the plane. So they spend another day moving manikins around inside the plane to diversify the passengers.

And they finally get everything done, seal the plane, take off, crash it, and the additive doesn’t work, so the plane and it’s mixed race passengers goes up in a fireball, Black and White manikins burning in a racially mixed way.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Controlled_impact_demonstration_dummies.jpg

By the way, none of the manikins were women, but since I have no interest in burning up in an aircraft accident, that doesn’t bother me.

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Liz T July 8, 2013 at 4:10 pm

Alison, I’m having trouble pinpointing the illegal part of this. In what circumstances is it illegal to force people of different races to room together? As noted above, Erik’s analogy concerns the opposite situation, which isn’t really helpful to us layfolk–we all know that there’s tons of case law on SEPARATING people of different races, but at what point is this different from a diversity initiative? It’s ham-fisted and extreme, to be sure, but where does the law draw the line?

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Liz T July 8, 2013 at 4:12 pm

“at what point is this different from a diversity initiative? ”

I should clarify: “this” meaning the OP’s situation.

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Liz T July 8, 2013 at 4:15 pm

(Yes, another self-reply.)

Rereading it, I see he later says that mandatory roommate assignment by race is illegal. Sorry, I got thrown off by the analogy.

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Joey July 8, 2013 at 4:34 pm

That’s a stretch too. Who is it harming? Diversity on overdrive? Maybe. Illegal discrimination ? I don’t see it.

The separate but equal argument was found discriminatory because separate was found to be inherently unequal. The key was the inequality.

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Liz T July 8, 2013 at 4:39 pm

I wasn’t asking whether the law made sense, though, I was asking what the law actually WAS. I agree that it’s an angle I’d never considered–and, if Erik is reading, I’d still be really interested in hearing about whether this is based on case law, or something statutory/regulatory.

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Joey July 8, 2013 at 4:53 pm

The law says you have to be treated unfavorably based on a protected class for it to be illegal. Unless the op can point to a harm or some action that’s less favorable as a result of race it can’t be illegal.

That’s what affirmative action is all about- the argument isn’t that its based on race. The argument is that its unfair.

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Joey July 8, 2013 at 5:07 pm

That is, the UT affirmative action court case.

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SW July 8, 2013 at 5:04 pm

To me, the problem is that the CEO made business decisions based on her employees’ race. Equal treatment means that my race shouldn’t matter in any of these decisions, no matter how trivial.

Also, I disagree that it’s “diversity in overdrive.” The CEO just took crazy measures for her company to be perceived as diverse, without bothering with any of the stuff that actually matters (like not making fun of your employee for having an Ethiopian boyfriend).

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Joey July 8, 2013 at 5:15 pm

But where’s the unequal treatment? You have to have that to be illegal.

Its sort of like the boss who calls men and women durogatory names. Its not discrimination if he’s an equal opportunity asshole.

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SW July 8, 2013 at 5:30 pm

But it IS discrimination. If a boss calls someone the N-word, saying “But I call the white employees honkies all the time! And I’ve got names for the Latinos, Asians, etc.” is not an excuse. It’s still discrimination, it just targets multiple races (and yes, in this example one is worse than the other). It can still be reported to the EEOC.

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Joey July 8, 2013 at 6:08 pm

But that wouldn’t be different or unequal treatment

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SW July 8, 2013 at 6:33 pm

It’s technically different in the example. (He wouldn’t call a white employee the N-word.) What makes it discrimination is that the slurs he uses are racially charged.

And it is actually unequal, if you compare the history of the N-word to the word “honky.” Also, a situation where a white boss calls a white employee “honky” isn’t the same thing as a white boss calling a black employee the N-word.

Now, if a boss uniformly called everyone an “asshole,” regardless of race — that’s a bad boss, but no EEOC case there.

Joey July 8, 2013 at 9:24 pm

Racially charged doesn’t matter although the severity of the words might. But then if its deemed more severe that would be different treatment.

Ask a Manager July 8, 2013 at 11:20 pm

Racially charged does matter. It’s race-based hostile workplace.

Joey July 9, 2013 at 8:27 am

Not by itself as it relates to discrimination.

SW July 9, 2013 at 9:30 am

Yes it does matter, and it is discrimination because you called them something you wouldn’t call someone of another race. Privilege comes into play here — there is no N-word equivalent for white people (no, “honky” and “cracker” do NOT have the same history as the N-word and are not equal in severity).

How do you not understand that calling someone the N-word is a much worse offense than calling them a race-neutral insult like “asshole”?

SW July 8, 2013 at 5:39 pm

To get into the details here, employees are treated differently from other employees based on their race — that’s what’s illegal. Doesn’t matter that white employees don’t benefit more from the decision than Asian employees, or vice versa.

If someone really wanted to argue the point, hypothetical employee Bob could say “I don’t get to stay in Room X because I’m not white, but Charlie can. That’s discrimination.” Charlie could say, “I don’t get to stay in Room Y because I’m not Asian, but Bob can. That’s discrimination.” Both statements would be true.

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Layla July 8, 2013 at 7:36 pm

But is it discrimination then if only same sex employees are able to room together ?

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Anonymous July 9, 2013 at 2:56 am

Most places don’t have a policy regarding the gender of hotel room mates. Generally, that’s just employee preference if the employees are not in a mutual romantic relationship.

Most places don’t have a rule against it because most of the rule-setters want the ability to have sex with someone on business travel if they so choose. I know several people who bring their husbands or wives along on occasional business trips.

Kou July 8, 2013 at 7:39 pm

That’s what he’s highlighting though– that race-based mandates, regardless of whether or not they are damaging to a specific group only, are illegal.

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Mike C. July 9, 2013 at 11:22 am

The harm comes from making an artificial distinction by race. There’s no reason for it and it historically leads to Very Bad Shit.

You keep questioning this, why?

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Joey July 9, 2013 at 1:55 pm

By definition racial discrimination means you’re treated differently or unfavorably because of race. If you can’t show the difference in treatment it can’t be discrimination. No matter how crappy, if all races are treated equally bad it might be a hostile environment, but its not discrimination.

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Ask a Manager July 9, 2013 at 1:56 pm

This is treating different races differently. Chinese Person X can’t room with Chinese Person Y, but White Person Z can, because she is white.

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Sarah123 July 8, 2013 at 4:40 pm

Question here… even if this was not illegal, how would the OP even make this happen? Is she expected to guess what someone’s race is? Or go around asking everyone what they would like to be considered as? It isn’t always clear. What if someone is bi-racial? I am Italian, but could easily pass for Hispanic or even African American. If my manager wanted to know what race I was for the purposes of whom I would be rooming with, I would think that was a little weird. As far as this being illegal or not illegal, the manager’s intentions do not matter. It is the impact on the employee that matters. This is strictly from my work experience. I am not a lawyer. In my experience, it hasn’t mattered if a manager didn’t mean to make an employee feel discriminated against, it only matters if the employee perceived it that way. This is why it is nearly always better just to leave one’s race completely out of anything business related. Even if this manager had the best of intentions, it could certainly come across badly to some of the employees. If the manager simply wanted everyone to get to known each other and promote diversity, there are better ways she could have tried to accomplish this. The retaliation issue only makes the whole situation worse. I do agree that reporting this to the EEOC would be appropriate, but I don’t know enough about Visas to know how this would impact her friend if it went badly.

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Caffeine Queen July 8, 2013 at 8:01 pm

As a fellow Italian who often gets mistaken for every possible ethnic combination, I’d have to wonder where I’d sleep………

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Tekoa July 8, 2013 at 8:14 pm

I was wondering this myself. How would the OP’s friend even do this task? Look up employee names and assign them rooms based on probable race? (Jackie Chan and Clint Eastwood should share a room!) Eyeball them? (Yeah, you look Asian/Caucasian). Just….what?

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CoffeeLover July 8, 2013 at 10:31 pm

It sounds like a company primarily with Chinese and American employees (I got this from OP saying everyone in the office speaks Chinese in a post). The CEO probably wanted one visible Chinese and one American in each room with complete disregard to the American’s heritage. It’s optics so it doesn’t really matter where you’re actually from. They’re probably a company that works with the Chinese-American community or with Chinese companies.

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anau87 (The OP) July 8, 2013 at 10:39 pm

We were a small company (less than 20 people) in a small building, so we knew where everyone was from, what they had studied, what languages they spoke, their pet peeves, the things they did was our pet peeve, their favorite type of fish, their coping strategies, their commute …. and so on. You get the picture.

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Chris80 July 8, 2013 at 5:24 pm

AAM, if you’re still reading, I have a process question that I’m curious about. When you pass a question or part of a question on to another person (such as the employment lawyer above), are they paid to provide their input or is it usually more of a personal favor?

Forgive me if that’s a stupid question – I’m not really aware of how bloggers make money to begin with, though I’m assuming it’s mostly through ads. Just curious if there’s any benefit to others who contribute to the blog!

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Ask a Manager July 8, 2013 at 6:20 pm

Personal favor, not paid. (Similar to how when I’m quoted in someone else’s article, I’m not paid either. If I write the article, then I’m paid.)

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Chris80 July 8, 2013 at 7:56 pm

Thanks!

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HR Competent July 8, 2013 at 6:05 pm

I have to say while I can see a high pile of bad management I’m not seeing illegal discrimination.
However!
I can see how the method and communication could be perceived illegally discriminating and the CEO’s reaction could meet the legal definition of “Hostile Work Environment”.

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AB July 8, 2013 at 7:00 pm

I have zero knowledge of American laws in this respect, but I didn’t see discrimination either.

“two Caucasians cannot stay in the same room together, one Caucasian must always be together with one Asian during all times at the conference, including going on lunch breaks, sharing rooms, and sitting next to each other on the plane.”

To me, this is equal treatment — everybody is equally inflicted the same stupid policies and subject to the annoyance of keeping track of who they are sharing a room / sitting / having lunch with.

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Kou July 8, 2013 at 7:44 pm

That’s what Erik is trying to highlight though– that policies based on race are illegal even if everyone is theoretically getting the same thing. You can’t make mandates based on race, regardless of whether or not they are slighting one specific group. We’d say this was a no-brainer if we were dividing people even if they got the same disadvantages on all sides.

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HR Competent July 8, 2013 at 7:54 pm

From the EEOC noting Federal Laws Prohibiting Job Discrimination:
hiring and firing;
compensation, assignment, or classification of employees;
transfer, promotion, layoff, or recall;
job advertisements;
recruitment;
testing;
use of company facilities;
training and apprenticeship programs;
fringe benefits;
pay, retirement plans, and disability leave; or
other terms and conditions of employment.

Since this was regarding room assignment that was no better or worse for everyone I’m still not seeing it.

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Anonymous July 8, 2013 at 9:24 pm

It falls under fringe benefits and other terms of employment.

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HR Competent July 8, 2013 at 10:07 pm

I don’t see the fringe benefit. The only way it would be discrimintory is if they made one group pay out of pocket, the other on the company dime or something similar.

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Editor July 9, 2013 at 12:18 am

As I understand it, fairness is moot because decisions about employees are being based on race, and the law says race should not be a factor in making decisions about employees.

And, as Alison mentioned above, the real actionable issue will probably be the threat or reality of retaliation, not the discrimination itself.

Basically, to get EEOC interested, someone has to report that decisions were made by race. For the visa holder to get relief, the retaliation claim is more likely to be helpful than the initial discrimination complaint.

The issue is racism, not fairness. As I understand it (and I’m not a lawyer), the EEOC is concerned about both racism and fairness, so the company CEO could get investigated and get a pass on discrimination because the racism didn’t result in unfairness, but still get in trouble for the retaliation, which could be real even if there was no unfairness due to racism.

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AB July 8, 2013 at 7:56 pm

Kou,

Totally agree that what the OP describes would be illegal in the context of “law that says that policies based on race are illegal”, but the point I was responding to in HR’s comment is regarding “discrimination”.

To me, there doesn’t seem to be any “prejudicial and/or distinguishing treatment of an individual based on their actual or perceived membership in a certain group or category”. Everybody is being subject to the exact same policy regardless of their race, so not a case of discrimination itself.

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Elise July 8, 2013 at 9:47 pm

It’s not equal if the Asian employees can go grab a bite to eat on their own for some private time, but the Caucasian employees must always have a babysitter.

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AB July 8, 2013 at 10:08 pm

True, Elise! If that’s the policy, and Asian employees can go have lunch or walk around on their on while the Caucasians need always to be paired with an Asian, then discrimination would be obvious.

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Kou July 8, 2013 at 7:50 pm

You boil people down to their race and you make decisions off that– that’s where things have gone wrong. It’s not only what the decisions actually are or how they impact people, but what criteria are being used.

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Anonymous July 8, 2013 at 11:12 pm

While I agree the manager’s behavior is weird and I am not trying to defend it in any way, the response seems strange as well, given that the government has legally mandated forced racial mixing in the past, considering it in society’s best interests. I am thinking of the forced busing of the 70′s, which I agree is the same thing as employment law. It just seems strange that it is okay (constitutional even) to make a race based decision there, but not legal in this scenario. Or it is okay for the government to make decisions based on race, but not okay for private entities?

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Anonymous July 8, 2013 at 11:13 pm

NOT the same as employment law!

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Editor July 9, 2013 at 12:27 am

U.S. law is not consistent. It will prescribe racial mixing in some situations, and ban decision-making based on race in others. Different laws are different because of lobbying, political compromise, desired outcomes, and other factors.

Trying to enforce superficial consistency is as futile as trying to regularize the conjugations all English verbs. It isn’t going to happen.

The desired outcome in forced school integration is that the races mix comfortably instead of living apart. The desired outcome in employment law is that the races get treated equally in the workplace and therefore mix comfortably. The goals are actually similar, but the process is profoundly different.

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Editor July 9, 2013 at 12:30 am

*of* — sorry for the omission

Trying to enforce superficial consistency is as futile as trying to regularize the conjugations of all English verbs.

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BCW July 8, 2013 at 11:39 pm

Here is my question. If the CEO just assigned these mixed race rooms and didn’t tell the OPs friend to do it, would this even be an issue? If they just showed up at the conference and were given room assignments what would they do? If they complained, isn’t that kind of racist on their part? I mean couldn’t you argue that if you had white people paired and chinese people paired, even at their request, that its the same thing, or worse because you are letting people choose to not room with others possibly based on their race? Again, bad management? Yes. But I don’t see it as discrimination.

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anau87 (The OP) July 8, 2013 at 11:48 pm

That came up quite a bit — if she was going to make this decision this way for every major conference, then, it would take a long time for anyone to discern a pattern and we all would have been hunky-dorry. A little miffed by hamfistedness of a company’s CEO choosing room assignments, but, well, not outraged.

If, what I’m understand from the post, it was the “You have to do x because you are y” argument my prior boss made is what made it illegal, regardless of outcomes/intent/harm.

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Anonymous July 9, 2013 at 12:27 am

If making decisions in the workplace based on a protected class attribute is illegal, does that mean that having men’s bathrooms vs, women’s bathrooms in the workplace is illegal? If not, why not?

Along the same lines, would assigning rooms at this conference by gender, a protected attribute, be illegal as well? If not, why not?

For the record, I am fine with gender segregated bathrooms!

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Ask a Manager July 9, 2013 at 12:35 am

The law makes exceptions to gender discrimination policies when there’s a bona fide necessity — it’s why you can refuse to hire men to work as, say, a bra fitter. Single-sex bathrooms and hotel rooms are generally considered acceptable for similar reasons.

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BCW July 9, 2013 at 10:07 am

Just a question, are there any times that exceptions those work in the opposite direction? I can’t really think of any jobs that legally women can be denied for a bona fide necessity. I mean they even have to let women reporters in men’s locker rooms in pro sports, which I don’t know how you argue thats a “necessity”. Women are hired at men’s clothing stores as well. I know there are plenty of physical jobs that men, on the whole, are much better suited for, but legally women have to be hired for even though it may be less efficient. I’m not trying to start a whole argument on this, but I’m really curious if there are these exceptions for women as well.

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KellyK July 9, 2013 at 10:40 am

There’s no law that says if “lift X pounds” or “unload Y boxes an hour” is a job requirement that you have to hire a woman who can’t fulfill those requirements. It’s very different to say “You can’t just assume that only men are qualified,” than to say “You must hire women who aren’t qualified.”

As far as locker rooms, those tend to be sports reporters’ only chance to talk to athletes after the game, and if you* say “no women” you’re consigning female sports reporters to the lower levels of that profession. You’re also working from the “just us guys/just us girls” assumption that being around naked people is a non-issue only as long as they’re all the same sex, which ignores the existence of LGBT people (whether reporters or athletes in this case). It should be a non-issue because people who are paid to do a job can act like grown-ups, regardless of gender or orientation.

*All of these you’s are generic.

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KellyK July 9, 2013 at 10:43 am

The locker room is a lot different from the fitting room (where I seriously doubt women are being hired in men’s stores) because the athletes are paid to be there. Talking to reporters, even while you’re getting changed, is part of that job. And sometimes reporters are female. (And male reporters are allowed in women’s locker rooms.)

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BCW July 9, 2013 at 11:19 am

Fair enough. I do know from a recent example a female friend of mine hired movers, who she was paying hourly. A guy and a fairly small woman came. Now as my friend said, this woman was plenty capable of lifting these heavy boxes, but just based on her size, she wouldn’t be able to carry as many as a bigger guy could. So my friend wasn’t too happy with that. I guess thats an example I can think of where yes she could do it, and a company probably couldn’t legally deny her that right, but I think my friend had a very good argument. I think many people, if they hired movers they were paying hourly would rather have a couple of bigger guys than smaller women just because they probably could get it done faster.

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Mike C. July 9, 2013 at 11:31 am

That’s a pretty stupid reason to complain. Moving boxes isn’t the only thing involved with a moving business, and your friend is paying for the the services of the entire business, not just the people physically moving boxes.

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Jamie July 9, 2013 at 11:51 am

I think his point is that two fast movers will be more cost efficient than one fast and one slower mover…and if you replace the small woman with another big guy who needs to be more careful lifting due to his back the point holds.

I’ve moved more times than I can count and I can lift anything my husband and sons can (although I might need a dolly)…but you’d be paying 2-3x as much per hour with me on the team as any two of the three of them.

If the fees were set by square footage and time was irrelevant that’s a different story. Just like if you pay someone to clean your house by the hour you don’t want someone who takes 2-3x as long as someone who can do it faster.

That’s a valid complaint, imo.

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KellyK July 9, 2013 at 12:21 pm

The bit about a guy doing it faster is part of why I included “unload Y boxes per hour” as an example of a qualification. If the speed she worked at was a problem for the company, it would be totally reasonable not to hire her based on that speed. It would just have to be across-the-board rather than gender-specific (e.g., no hiring a guy who can move 25 boxes an hour, but refusing to hire a woman because she can’t do 30).

But Mike has a point that, for the company, there’s a lot more to who you hire than moving boxes, and that it’s kind of a petty thing for the customer to complain about. There will always be someone who could potentially do the job faster and therefore cost less. (Would she complain about getting one short skinny guy and one who looks like a bodybuilder?)

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BCW July 9, 2013 at 12:43 pm

But even with that qualification, if the minimum is say 10 boxes an hour, and she can pass that, yet a bigger guy can do 13 boxes an hour, its still costing the customer more money. Anytime you pay by the hour for something, you want the person who can do it fastest.

And as far about complaining about the company, she didn’t file a formal complaint or anything. I think she was just annoyed. I don’t think anyone is saying a moving company shouldn’t hire a smaller woman, but maybe the actual “moving” isn’t the best fit. She may be a marginal mover (but still pass the minimum qualifications) but if she is a great accountant, that might be a better place for her and the customer.

As far as your last question, I assume if she got a guy who was skinny and 5 feet tall, she’d be equally as annoyed.

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KellyK July 9, 2013 at 2:47 pm

But even with that qualification, if the minimum is say 10 boxes an hour, and she can pass that, yet a bigger guy can do 13 boxes an hour, its still costing the customer more money.

Sure, it’s costing her more compared to a perfect hypothetical. But there’s always going to be someone who could do a given job faster. If the bigger guy can do 13 and she gets him, is that okay, or is she still going to be annoyed because she didn’t get the one guy in the whole company who can do 17 boxes an hour?

One of the drawbacks of hiring a company rather than an individual is that you don’t necessarily pick the specific person who’s performing the task. You get the person they have available at that time.

dahllaz October 16, 2013 at 3:10 pm

Maybe the women couldn’t move as many boxes an hour – but maybe she could organize the truck better.
Or maybe the guy could carry more boxes, but didn’t drive.
Or maybe the guy carried heaviest stuff while the woman dealt with more fragile items.
Some moving companies do the packing as well – maybe she was the better packer.

I’ve never worked for a moving company, but did work for a construction company that did a lot of insurance work. Which sometimes meant packing up a house and moving the contents out. There were a LOT of times that myself and the other women on our crew could work circles around the bigger, younger, stronger guys that were sent to help us load up a truck.
And even if we didn’t, we were still the ones in charge of overseeing the packing and loading of the truck.

Ruffingit July 9, 2013 at 11:43 am

I remember an interesting discussion in my law school class on employment discrimination regarding this issue of gender discrimination policies. We discussed men not being hired as bra fitters and yet, it’s totally OK for me to be gynecologists.

For the record, I have no problem with men being gynecologists, but it’s interesting to think about. They can’t be bra fitters, but they can be gynecologists. Hmmm…

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Ruffingit July 9, 2013 at 11:50 am

*totally OK for MEN

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Editor July 9, 2013 at 12:52 am

That’s basically the question that sank the Equal Rights Amendment. I think the law will always be messy about this issue, because sexual harassment concerns will affect how equality is enforced, and certainly a lot of public opinion will influence politicians.

For instance, if the ERA had passed, soon afterward there might have been new laws about privacy in the workplace because people wanted to segregate the genders at times. One outcome might be that all bathrooms would have been required to be single-seaters except for those grandfathered in. It’s a more expensive solution, but construction lobbyists would support it. A lot of single parents are likely to see the advantages, too (taking my eight-year-old son into the ladies’ at the airport was not a good idea, but letting him go on his own into the mens’ room that had two entrances did not make me happy, either).

Another outcome might be that a law would require all business travel to provide private rooms; that would solve the issue of rooming with a gay co-worker, too, for those who feel it is an issue. The hospitality industry would probably lobby in support of such a bill; whether the U.S. Chamber of Commerce would approve, I don’t know because there might be a lot of hand-wringing about small businesses. Non-profits might oppose the bill, but current social trends toward increasing privacy might mean the hospitality industry wins and employers lose.

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Anonymous July 9, 2013 at 3:23 am

I think you are profoundly confused. The label on a bathroom is a socially-ingrained suggestion. It is not a law. A woman does not get arrested if she walk into a man’s bathroom, takes a piss, and leaves. She might get fired at work, but probably not at most places.

If she engages in pervy, harassing behavior while in the men’s room, then she’s more likely to be fired (and deserves to be fired – for harassment, not for being in a men’s room).

Many companies won’t take action on someone using the “wrong” bathroom because it leads to issues when you run into someone who doesn’t fit neatly in the hetero-normative 2-gender box. There are transgenders, there are cross-dressers, there are intersex, the occasional accident, and other exceptions.

I’ve used men’s bathrooms when there weren’t adequate women’s bathrooms available, and no one complained. I’ve also been in men’s bathrooms as part of a job requirement (to inspect it for stray patrons before locking it for the night). I’ve seen men in the ladies’ room on occasion, and I don’t complain. I’d say something if they looked like they were up to no good, but so far it’s all been harmless, ordinary pissing.

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Anonymous July 9, 2013 at 5:15 am

Good grief! If you are referring to my question, I am hardly “profoundly confused”. I never stated that the label on a bathroom was “a law”. I was pointing out a place where separate accomodation is made by a protected attribute and asked for (and received) clarification on the justification. Furthermore it is quite a stretch to conclude that my comment encompassed the presence of a man in a woman’s room or vice versa for the purposes of maintenance, repair, cleaning, inspection, etc.

I am happy to say that I have never worked in an office where the bathroom facilities were inadequate. Public areas, yes. Office workplaces, no.

Finally, I put forth that any workplace with 2 sets of water fountains, each labeled with only a “socially ingrained suggestion” about which protected class is meant to use them would find itself in hot water pretty fast.

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fposte July 9, 2013 at 11:09 am

It would sure help if you anonymous folks would give yourselves a pseudonym.

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Ruffingit July 9, 2013 at 11:58 am

+1

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Jazzy Red July 9, 2013 at 9:36 am

Re: Separate Restrooms

It’s a non-negotiable social custom.

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The IT Manager July 9, 2013 at 10:46 am

As a woman, I’d have no problem with coed public restrooms as woman’s public restrooms are designed now. We all get our own private stalls.

Now if the men wanted to retain the urinals in plain view which I suspect are included in nearly all male public restrooms, I have a problem with that in a coed bathroom. The urinals are probably a signifigant reason why men’s restroom visits are shorter than women’s and men usually don’t have long lines even in crowded venues. So it’s the guys that would lose out if coed public restrooms ever were to catch on.

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Jamie July 9, 2013 at 11:57 am

Thank you – it is a non-negotiable social custom. Maybe it’s because I’m 900 years old but I don’t ever want to live in a world with co-ed public bathrooms. (Unless they are single use – then I couldn’t care less.)

And ftr I would pay for my own accommodations in a heartbeat before sharing a hotel with anyone not of my choosing…and if not allowed to do that I’d quit. Absolute deal breaker for me.

The point of a hotel room (besides the whole sleeping, showering thing) is to have some downtime at night away from co-workers. A place to be alone (or with the company of your choosing) and recharge. I would be one tightly wound person if I had to travel to a conference and then couldn’t get away from co-workers even in my sleep.

I am shocked this is as common as it is, because I’d assume there would be more like me who’d completely balk at the suggestion.

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AllisonD July 9, 2013 at 12:15 pm

Jamie, I don’t think it is common at all (I’ve been in the professional world for 25 years). I think the people that are subjected to this THINK this is common. It is not.

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Ask a Manager July 9, 2013 at 12:27 pm

It’s common in many industries, like nonprofits. It’s not common in others, which may be why you’ve never encountered it.

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Layla July 9, 2013 at 8:07 pm

I do completely balk at sharing rooms but would not pay for a single.
During a 1 night stop over during for an international trip –
We had to share rooms. But as I was the only female , I had my own . When we reached our destination proper , it was all single rooms.

The other time I had to share a room was during a one day/ night retreat. Stayed out as late as possible to avoid my roomie.
I suspect room assignments were done by race if possible.
We could swap if we could find someone to.
Come to think of it , not too sure how 2 Indians if vastly different caste would fare at this.

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Liz T July 9, 2013 at 1:59 pm

My mother–who’s a lawyer, but not in employment law–pointed out last night that the Supreme Court changed things a mere four weeks ago. Now, it would be very difficult for the OP’s friend to make a case for retaliation, as the burden of proof as has been made higher. (According to my mother, impossibly high.)

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Ask a Manager July 9, 2013 at 2:27 pm

I haven’t looked at the case yet, but one commenter here had a very different take on that a few days ago:
https://www.askamanager.org/2013/07/forced-to-come-to-work-sick-distracted-manager-and-more.html#comment-238303

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Jessa July 9, 2013 at 3:53 pm

Yeh that was me. I kind of read it not as crazy OMG it’s awful as everyone else did.

Mainly there’s two BIG differences that I can see. The first one is the action has to be taken by someone who can DO something to you (harder to complain about a fellow employee than a manager who can fire you.) The person you’re trying to sue about has to actually be able to adversely affect your employment.

And the second is that the action has to be BECAUSE of the discriminatory thing. If there are a dozen reasons why they did something and only one of them is discriminatory you will probably lose. The discriminatory thing has to be a majority par of why they acted for you to win. If you’re in trouble for something and things are bad and the boss happened to call you racial word, you’re going to lose (actually I think that’s pretty much what happened in Nassar, the boss was racist but Nassar did actionable things too and was fired.)

I think there’s a lot more panic about this than there needs to be. Nassar was not as deadly as it looks to me. The biggest thing about Nassar was that the person doing the discrimination has to be able to HURT the employee. That doesn’t mean someone can’t get in trouble for a hostile work environment if it’s been reported and reported and the company does nothing. It does however mean if someone just shows up and sues the company they CAN protect themselves by saying the floor worker does not have any authority over that other employee, they were never told and how can they possibly be responsible for something they had no idea about. AND they’d WIN which is actually FAIR.

Most companies do have policies about this that are stricter than the actual law provides for, mostly because it’s good business to protect your workers. But there are some…well seriously litigious people in the US for some seriously over the top reasons too. Every now and then the pendulum has to swing back the other way for balance.

Are some companies going to get away with stuff, sure. Don’t they now? But then so do some employees. Not every plaintiff whether employee or employer is out for a good reason.

It’s a higher burden yes. I don’t think it’s as impossible as people think.

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Jessa July 9, 2013 at 3:59 pm

On the other hand for someone who does have hire/fire ability over someone with a work visa to threaten the employment and thus the residency of a person who refuses to do something categorically racist and therefore protected, well that’s pretty much smack dab in middle of the standards Nassar carved out.

1. the person doing the retaliating CAN fire the complainer.
2. the things the complainer refused to do were protected
3. the complainer DID complain
4. there was retaliation against a whistleblower and the retaliation was against a protected thing TOO. And the retaliation took the form of actual job sanctions (bad reviews, bad duties, bad treatment.)

tailor made post-Nassar win.

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Sara M July 10, 2013 at 2:36 pm

I would love an update on this situation in a few months, if the OP stays in touch with the threatened employee.

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Susan July 26, 2013 at 8:46 pm

Just wanted to say that when I read the title, I quite literally gasped in astonishment!

My micromanaging manager seems downright reasonable in comparison.

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Christine July 30, 2013 at 6:13 am

So, where would Affirmative Action laws fit in here? These laws seem to operate through a discriminatory lense.

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Julie October 5, 2013 at 2:54 pm

Sharing a room with someone you do not know is just inappropriate period. I am so tired of seeing businesses giving management their own room and the rest of the “surfs” having to share. You just spent 8 hrs with people, you should have the right to your privacy. Everyone deserves their downtime.

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