my coworker sent a classist, racist email company-wide after a janitor won our Christmas contest

A reader writes:

In November 2020, my company announced that since they couldn’t have a company Christmas party they were going to use the money on a car someone could win. The person who won could choose any car they wanted and the company would pay X amount toward the car. If the car was more than that, the winner would have to pay the remainder out of pocket. The money was only going toward a car, you couldn’t ask for cash instead. Everyone who was a full-time employee for two or more years and was not an executive or higher was automatically entered. If you won and didn’t want the car, they would redraw.

In 2020, it went great. A white-presenting woman from our legal department won and the company sent out an email with her and her husband smiling and standing in front of her new car in December.

In 2021, the company sent out a poll asking if we would prefer to do a car drawing again or have a company Christmas party, and most people wanted a car drawing again. The winner this time was a janitor who appears to be Latino and has a Spanish name, and we got a picture of him and his family standing in front of a minivan.

While everyone seemed happy for the first winner, some people were not so happy this time around. A coworker, Gaston, with the same manager as me was particularly vocal that he didn’t believe that the janitorial department should “count” or be included in the drawing. I got a lot of classism vibes from him and told our manger about it. But our manager said Gaston wasn’t doing anything illegal and he was allow to express his opinions during lunch and non-work hours as long as it wasn’t against a protected group.

Gaston sent a company-wide email stating that he didn’t think janitors should be included and hinting that maybe instead of being a fair drawing it had been rigged so the company had a feel-good story and picture to send around. I feel there must have been more emails or discussions I don’t know about, because a company-wide email went around from HR about how the drawing was blind and didn’t not take into account race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.

I was originally going to write in and ask you if there was a way I could organize people to speak up about how they thought the whole thing was fair because I was worried, with the big stink he was making, that next year the company would ditch the drawing. But yesterday (it’s March as I write this) I was at a social event and speaking to someone from a different department when I mentioned the group I work in. The response: “Oh! you’re from that racist team that doesn’t think people of color can win things legitimately.” I was horrified and tried to explain of course I didn’t think that, though one of my coworkers was disappointed. (I was careful not to call Gaston a racist.) Still, the man I was speaking to clearly didn’t believe me. Now I’m worried about my own reputation. Should I ask to transfer? Look for a new job? Hope it all goes away? Send out a company-wide email of my own? I talked to my manager again and he gave the same answer as last time.

Gaston sent a company-wide email stating that he didn’t think janitors should be included in a company-wide holiday drawing.

I have to repeat that: Gaston sent a company-wide email stating that he didn’t think janitors should be included in a company-wide holiday drawing.

Something is wrong with Gaston. On top of the classism and likely racism, his judgment is astonishingly terrible.

Also, your manager — astoundingly negligent. The fact that Gaston wasn’t breaking the law doesn’t make what he did okay. That’s an incredibly low standard for your manager to have! A decent manager would have told Gaston his comments were classist and gross, didn’t reflect the company’s values, and gave them serious pause about his judgment and character. And when Gaston sent out the company-wide email … at that point he’d shown his judgment to be so bad that any competent manager would need to respond. What that means depends on the specifics of Gaston’s job but I’d certainly be reflecting on, for example, whether he could continue having contact with clients, interns, the public, VIPs … and whether I could trust his judgment and values enough to do his job in general. We’d be having some very serious conversations and I’d be doing a lot of rethinking.

But as for how this all could affect your own reputation … I’m skeptical that it will, unless you see more evidence of it beyond that one comment. People won’t normally assume one person’s rogue agenda represents everyone else who happens to be on their team, unless that team rallies around them or already has a reputation for the types of opinions that were expressed.

That said, you should use different language if this comes up in the future. Saying that Gaston was “disappointed” in the results of the drawing sounds like you’re downplaying or even excusing what he actually did. He wasn’t just disappointed; he decided to vocally be a classist and racist asshole. Don’t say he was disappointed; say you were disgusted by what he wrote and he doesn’t speak for the rest of you.

You might also consider actions you can take to promote equity and inclusion for people who are marginalized in your workplace. Are there employee resource groups or ally groups you can join? Can you push for anti-racist policies and trainings? Push for salary transparency and pay equity? Look for ways to mentor or sponsor employees who don’t normally get that help, or to open the door wider to people who might otherwise be excluded? (I’m guessing there’s plenty of work to be done in these areas given your company’s lackluster response to Gaston’s email, and also because there usually is.) Let Gaston’s behavior spur you to work to make things better! In addition to being worthy work on its own, it will make it clear you don’t stand with him.

Read an update to this letter here

{ 635 comments… read them below }

  1. Dust Bunny*

    some people were not so happy this time around

    So . . . Gaston is a racist a-hole but not the only racist a-hole?

    1. laowai_gaijin*

      Sounds like there are more than a few people who don’t consider janitorial staff to be a “real” part of the company.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        The one group of people who support all other departments & who are the most likely to be missed when they aren’t around.

        1. Wenike*

          Also, one of the trinity of departments you do not tick off in a corporation! The other two being IT and the admins. If your company has a lunchroom/cafeteria, those cooks are also people to butter up.

      2. Wintermute*

        just about the only even theoretical defense I could come up with is that for many companies they aren’t– they’re contracted from an outside company or employed by the landlord in an office tower situation.

        But in this case it sounds like they are full 100% employees of the company.

        There’s nothing to be done in this situation, because it doesn’t sound like the LW has any managerial authority or ability to enforce consequences, nor any responsibility to stop Gaston from showing his ass. But if it WERE a manager or if you had more standing, or even if you are just being ranted at and want to shut it down when someone is asking for something patently unreasonably I’ve found a good short-circuit is often to ask them just how, exactly, they would expect such a policy be written. Would certain departments like facilities/operations be excluded entirely? If so what about people of his own job level in that department, they’re not all janitors after all? Would they set a minimum salary or job level requirement below which you’re considered a second-class employee not elligible for some perks? Does that remotely sound reasonable?

        Usually when forced to explain exactly what they want people with a modicum of self-awareness realize just how absurd it is.

        1. laowai_gaijin*

          Yeah, it’s not uncommon for janitorial staff to come from outside the company, I know. Seeing as they were eligible for a company-wide contest, that’s obviously not the case here, so it really is just a case of classism.

        2. nelliebelle1197*

          And I REALLY hope he does not have an email address with the company and saw that.

        3. Worldwalker*

          Some people.

          And some people think that other people *should* be considered second-class employees. A category which, of course, never includes themselves.

          1. Mm*

            Yep. I worked at a company that had a cafeteria that employed their own staff (vs contracting out). I had a coworker express shock that they were eligible for the maternity leave our company gives all employees (2 weeks paid, rest unpaid and only for women who birthed a child themselves. So it isn’t even good leave). I was incredibly pissed, but left it at reporting it to their manager. Reading this letter makes me think I should have said something more directly.

      3. Alex*

        They would have a real heart attack at ours – we explicitly hired our cleaning staff as employees with benefits (Europe, so healthcare etc. are given but they get the same 6 weeks of vacation, bonuses etc. as everyone else as well) instead of as contractors just because it makes everyone’s lives easier and we actually value these people.

        They do great work too!

        1. Drago Cucina*

          I used to include the cleaning staff in the big general staff meetings so they knew what was coming up. They took part in all the staff training opportunities (yes, I want the cleaning people to be certified in CPR and how to deal with rude patrons, Mr. Board Chair), and the fun team building events that they helped develop.

        2. JM60*

          I was thinking, “If they aren’t ‘real’ employees, then surely you don’t needed them to do the work they do.”

          If their work is useful – which it is – then they shouldn’t be treated as less then because of that work.

      4. Rose*

        This tells you so much about company culture. Every great place I’ve worked, everyone knew our janitor’s names, said hi, they got huge tips from the staff at year end, etc. Every crappy place I’ve worked, they were treated like furniture. The only exception was a great company where cleaning staff was only there super early or late.

        “What are the names of your janitorial staff?” Should be my new post-interview question when I’m job hunting.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          At places where I stayed late enough that the janitor was on their rounds I made sure to get their name, and I included them in winter holiday gifting. Also, I thanked them when they emptied my trash, because it was one more thing I didn’t have to do. (Note: I’m abysmal in remembering names, so this actually took me seeing them multiple times.)

        2. CountryLass*

          I know the name of our cleaner, but couldn’t pick her out of a line-up! She comes in the evenings when we have gone. But she leaves a little note telling us what supplies she needs, and we get them for her, and she gets a card and gift at Christmas.

          I don’t think she gets invited to the Christmas party, as I think she is a contractor, rather than an employee…

          1. MCMonkeyBean*

            Yeah, I guess at like a hospital or a school or something I can imagine janitorial staff around all day that you can get to know them but any office setting I’ve been in they come after everyone is usually gone.

      5. Lanlan*

        Until you’ve had a three-year-old pee on the floor of the ladies’ room, you don’t know HOW real a part of the company they can be. OMG, I love Janitorial.

      6. ariel*

        Our janatorial staff recently went from FT employees to contracted staff and I’ve never been more disappointed in MPOW. They are the *realest* part of our organization! What a bunch of BS.

    2. Popinki*

      The only racist, classist a-hole saying these things out loud that the LW knows about, anyway.

      1. DoggoMom*

        I’m also horrible at names. If I picked up coworkers names, 90% of the time it was because of name placards at their cubicle. Our janitorial didn’t wear name badges. But I always thanked them for what they do, and if able, chat for a moment. You know, treat them like any other coworker because they are coworkers.

        1. CountryLass*

          Exactly! What a person DOES has no bearing on who they ARE, and even less relevance to their WORTH.

    3. kittymommy*

      Seriously. Gaston is a crappy human being (normally I use a different word, but I’ll be professional. Unlike Mr. Jerk Face.) I need to have a conversation with this guy because in absolutely no way can he justify this.

    4. wittyrepartee*

      Yeah, Mr. Scrooge and Mr. Marley got in on that action too.

      Which isn’t fair, Scrooge became a better person at the end of his life.

      1. Observer*

        Eh, Scrooge wasn’t a racist as far as anyone can see. I don’t think it’s useful to call on the Scrooge character for every nasty situation, just because there is a monetary component.

        1. Yorick*

          Exactly. Scrooge wouldn’t have been happy for the white lady who won the first time, either.

        2. wittyrepartee*

          Oh, I’m using it because they’re begrudging someone who makes less money than them a Christmas present.

    5. Artemesia*

      I just cannot imagine the management not going ballistic on this — it is a blight on the company image and most importantly, it is cruel and painful to the winner and his peers. Imagine your joy at winning the car for your family and the misery of it being an occasion to demean you.

      There are lots of horrible things is can say because ‘free speech’ – including racist things. But to say them on the company email is ‘business’ and he should have been fired — or at least held accountable visibly and quickly.

      1. CountryLass*

        Free speech is the freedom to say what you want, without being killed or jailed. It isn’t freedom from the consequences of those words.
        I can say that all purple-feathered ducks should be rounded up and plucked, as only GREEN-FEATHERED ducks should be seen as they are much prettier. And I cannot be jailed for saying it (unless it counts as inciting hate speech). It doesn’t mean that purple ducks can’t defecate on my car.

  2. TimeTravlR*

    What that actual….. is wrong with people?! I’d be thrilled to see a lower level (pay) employee win! The people who keep our buildings running and our bathrooms clean deserve all the love!

    1. Alexis Rosay*

      Yup. I’d bet a lot that if the janitors and Gaston disappeared one day, people would miss the work of the janitors a lot more.

      1. Fran Fine*

        That part. And they are very much apart of the company, even if they’re contracted out from another firm.

      2. Lacey*

        Yes. I’ve worked for companies that didn’t have janitors or a cleaning service and it was awful. Our janitors and building maintenance crews deserve tons of love.

    2. Jora Malli*

      If I could arrange for our janitor to have a free car, I’d do it right now. She works just as hard as the rest of us and deserves to be included in staff events and perks.

      1. Allornone*

        Exactly. Our Facility Services lady (her duties are janitorial by nature, but her title reflects the appropriate respect for the position) lady is an awesome woman. I’d be thrilled if she won a car!

        At times like these, I’m exceptionally grateful to be working for a very progressive non-profit in a very culturally diverse area. That crap would not be tolerated. Someone with a hint of that kind of attitude would never have been hired in the first place.

        1. Lanlan*

          Same though. Gaston would be fired so fast if he said a word against our gentleman. I wish we had enough people to do nice stuff like LW’s company.

    3. GammaGirl1908*

      I mean, just… **dropped jaw**stammers**waves arms incoherently**

      So the person who has the least-glamorous, likely lower-paying job had enough luck to get help to win a likely needed vehicle, and this dude was UPSET?! And announced this to the WHOLE COMPANY? There is an actual special place in hell for Gaston.

      Oh my goddess. OMG. OMGWTFBBQ.

      I have nothing useful to contribute, other than to tell LW to tell Gaston to shut his yap and let him know that he is 100% totally and completely in the wrong, that most sane people disagree with him, and that this is a truly terrible look for a host of reasons. I just … I just… WOW.

      1. wittyrepartee*

        At Christmas too. I’m like… did Gaston throw in some mention of the workhouses at the end there?

      2. Observer*

        I mean, just… **dropped jaw**stammers**waves arms incoherently**

        I laughed. But I also get it. This is just incredible. And NOT in a good way!

        1. CountryLass*

          I don’t know the last three? OMG, WTF I know, but the only BBQ I know involves hotdogs and onions…

          1. Very Social*

            I believe that’s the point. That acronym is for use when you’re so flabbergasted you just have to add some more letters!

            1. GammaGirl1908*

              Exactly.

              Heh, I also use a version of this when I’m texting and using angry or happy emojis. I often use a string of appropriately emotive emojis, and then when I’ve run out, I lapse into the emojis for foods I dislike or like, depending on the situation. Like, angry will get a line of various angry faces, then a mug of beer, a dumpling, a red pepper, and several pieces of sushi and strips of bacon. Happy will get various happy faces, then a martini, a burrito, a pineapple, a shrimp, a cupcake, and several cheeseburgers.

      3. Here we go again*

        I’d be really happy if someone on our support staff that doesn’t make a ton of money won a great prize like a new car. Having reliable transportation can really be a life changer. And taking away a $400/ month bill is huge.
        I’d be indifferent if it was someone who pulled in 6 figures a year. Big deal.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          OP said the executives were not included, which detail I rather liked.
          Pretty please can I be in charge next Christmas? I’ll stipulate that, rather than simply eliminating executives, I’d make it fairer, and eliminate anyone with a salary of more than X.

          (X being just one cent less than Gaston’s salary.)

      4. Momma Bear*

        I agree with the advice to be direct about Gaston – don’t add to the racism and classism by softening it for him. Let his email return to sender as quickly and firmly as possible.

        I would also remind Gaston that he is welcome to opt out of the car raffle in the future, so he can also opt out of feeling some kind of way about who wins.

    4. MigraineMonth*

      Especially these past few years, when the “essential” (and lowest-paid) workers in my org were the ones taking the most health risks since they couldn’t work from home. I called and sent emails of support when my union (which represents some of the highest-paid non-management workers) pushed to redistribute a raise to give the lowest-paid workers the largest % increase. I may be underpaid, but at least I’m not risking my health.

      1. GythaOgden*

        Thank you. As a receptionist who’s been in most working days over the past two years, this reply means a lot. I never really focused on the virus, but support during the two years has been patchy and for many people outside the office we’ve been out of site, out of mind — unless they needed their IT kit refurbished, which is pretty essential in a WFH context. And guess whose building the servers are in? :D

        There are no words acceptable on this forum for Gaston and his boss that said he was just expressing his opinion. I hope my supervisor, who has been doing an awesome job as well, would turn the heating off in his office and stop cleaning the toilets…just to show them how Facilities can fight back if they so choose.

      2. Rose*

        So glad you did this! My company is split into office and front line and all the office staff took a hit this year so front lines workers could get better increases.

        I’m torn between being happy my colleagues are actual good people who get why this is how it should be and anger at management for pitting us against the front line staff when likely we all could have gotten when we deserve. At least we all know what we’re dealing with and we aren’t going to turn against eachother.

    5. jm*

      i bet they were fine with “one of their own” winning because it was clear they’d had a chance themselves, then irrationally and racistly decided the janitor could only have won by execs manipulating the results, and therefore stole from them both the car and office party they could’ve had instead.

      1. Verthandi*

        And then suggested manipulating results so that the “right people” win in the future.

        There just isn’t enough contempt for the hypocrisy on display here. I’m sincerely happy for the janitor. It’s nice to see people who aren’t in the sales department winning a major prize like this. Too many companies I’ve worked for have had things like this and nobody outside of sales or management ever won.

      2. Salymander*

        People like this are of the same sort as the ones who think affirmative action is reverse discrimination. This letter made me so angry. I can’t even really articulate my thoughts about this because it is just a big mess of BAD, with a whole lot of Oh Hell No thrown in.

    6. Sharkie*

      Right! The reaction was so over the top.

      Now I can see if someone being surprised if they didn’t realize that Facilities was apart of the company and not contracted out to an other company (VERY common in my area) . But that is an “inside thought” that should have never been expressed! Gaston is FRIMLY in the wrong and I am surprised he is still employed.

      1. Clisby*

        Yes, I have to admit my first thought was, “Janitors are actually employees of the company?” But it sounds like that’s the case here, so of course they get to be in the drawing. (I’ve worked at places where functions like janitorial services and security services are contracted out, so they’re not employees.)

      2. Wintermute*

        That is the only thing I can think of that would make any of this sound superficially reasonable to cursory thought– that they’re simply used to places where janitorial staff is contracted or supplied by the office building and not employed by the company.

        But you hit the nail on the head– to express that thought out loud requires a serious disconnect in the brain-mouth loop

      3. Worldwalker*

        Sounds like his boss sucks.

        I can’t imagine wanting to work with someone like that. I’m not sure I could tolerate working with someone like that.

    7. Cat lady*

      There are people who think the only people who should get something for free are the ones who can afford to pay for them.

      1. Anonymous4*

        I’ve had that thought time and again, and never could put it into words. Thank you!

      2. LittleMarshmallow*

        I definitely don’t understand this mentality but since I have a colleague who is very much a classist, I see it all the time. The asking to explain what they mean doesn’t even help because they are 100% not ashamed of their classism. It’s not just for janitors and admin staff either. This person believes there is a hierarchy of human rights that goes along with education level and specific college majors too so if people with the same title and job function have different educational backgrounds they will view one as more “worthy” than the other regardless of skill or experience or you know… that they’re all a still people and should be treated like people.

        1. Mannequin*

          Not only is that horrible on every possible level, I simply can’t conceive of putting that much mental energy into being an A-Hole!

      3. MiddleAgedTrainWreck*

        THIS!! So much this! We used to have a monthly sales meeting at a central location. All admin and support staff were required to attend a few times each year. Each December meeting doubled as a fundraiser for a local charity. There were several activities billed as “team building” opportunities. Think: silly games where one of the owners or managers had to do goofy/embarrassing things, slightly inappropriate relays, etc. There was also a 50/50 raffle. Staff were compelled to attend, given one 50/50 raffle ticket for showing up and required to donate X dollars towards tickets for the games. The salespeople were all independent contractors (average annual earnings 4x or more than the average staff member). Traditionally, whoever won the 50/50 raffle would “be surprisingly selfless” and donate their winnings back to the charitable cause. Staff had NEVER won the raffle in past years, mostly because there were 20 staff members and 300+ sales people. Staff received ONE entry and most couldn’t afford the price tag to buy extras (Think $10 per or 6 for $50) Sales people are notoriously competitive and in our particular business are quite well known for their flashy displays of wealth-This industry has the reputation of being in the top 3 most slimy, surpassed only by lawyers and used car salesmen) By some extraordinary luck one of our Admins won! The winner’s share of the pot was upwards of $5,000!! That’s a HUGE sum for someone barely making $25k! She almost passed out when they called her number. Before she even got all the way to the front of the room one of the owner’s started thanking her for her generous “donation” to such a worthy cause, etc. She stood there shell shocked for almost a full minute before she could speak. She reached for the envelope with the winnings and said, I’m sorry! This is more money than I have ever had at one time. I am keeping it to pay my mortgage. The LOUD whispers about her “self-centered, selfish, uncharitable actions”followed her all the way back to her seat. For the next two hours this poor woman stared at the floor to avoid the awful glares from all of the salespeople and ownership team. During the entire social hour loud, vocal groups could be clearly heard discussing how the rules MUST be changed to exclude “THOSE PEOPLE” so this could never happen again. One person even had the gall to fake whisper how appalling it was to “steal” from a children’s charity at Christmas. I had only been on staff at the company for a couple years at that point and I was horrified! Thankfully, the owners got monster blowback about the entire situation from over half of the agents privately after the meeting. I’m glad some of them finally spoke up, but, to not have had the balls to speak out publicly while it was happening??? They quietly discontinued this particular fundraiser the next year. Leadership NEVER called out the bad behavior, never congratulated the staff person and never spoke about the incident again. So gross!

    8. mreasy*

      I feel like Gaston’s attitude is similar to folks who don’t think anyone who works a janitorial or other essential job not requiring a college degree doesn’t deserve a living wage.

    9. CupcakeCounter*

      I know, right!?!?!?!
      My husband is an upper level manager and at his company Christmas party they used to do some raffles. Everyone got a ticket when they walked in the door. Prizes ranged from branded can koozies with some gift cards to local stores to fill them all the way up to TV’s and grills. As you can imagine, the first few tickets grab some pretty good prizes. Hubs has always believed that the owners and high level managers shouldn’t be included in this since there is pay and benefit disparity between a company VP and the operators.
      Well his ticket got called 3rd one year. He grabbed a first aid kit, ignoring a gaming system, new iPhone, and a couple of other really nice prizes. One of the owner’s sons was called one or two tickets after Hubs and made a big show of taking a very expensive item and a cocky comment about taking what he earned or deserved or something equally revolting due to his status in the company. Neither move went unnoticed by the employees and the next year none of the ownership family had a raffle ticket. My husband keeps accidentally losing his…

      1. Cj*

        I’m probably posting this too late for you to see, but Bravo to your husband. He sounds like a man of integrity, and also compassion.

    10. Chauncy Gardener*

      I always think the lower paid employees SHOULD win these things! Ugh. I hate the Gastons of the world…

      1. JB*

        They contribute just as much to the office as other workers, but it’s in more of an invisible way since you only notice it when they don’t do their job.

    11. Curious*

      Absolutely. It is much better that a lower-paid employee — for whom the prize represents a larger proportion of their income — won the prize, and Gaston is a classist a-hat for thinking otherwise, much less sending the email.
      It is clear that the concept of noblesse oblige is foreign to them .

      I do hope someone told the winner that the prize is taxable income, though, because otherwise they may have an unpleasant surprise come tax filing time the next year. Honestly, it would be a solid good deed by the company to “gross up” the employee’s pay (at likely no more than 12 % federal) to help out with that.

    12. Artemesia*

      And precisely the people who will benefit most. It thrills me to think that this low paid employee was able to get something so wonderful for his family.

    13. JB*

      It’s all well and good to dismiss people like that, until the kitchen is a mess and there’s no more toilet paper. Treat everyone with respect, if nothing else it’s good morale for the workplace.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Trying here to figure out how best to annoy Gaston. For my boss, it was moving his mouse. He actually hauled the cleaners in to show them that they needed to put his mouse back in the exact same place after wiping his desk “because there’s enough stress in life as it is”. From that moment on, any time I had to go in his office when he wasn’t there, I’d move his mouse. (any stories of an evil boss that I’ve recounted here, were about him)

    14. GlitsyGus*

      Agreed! I remember at my last job they did a door prize drawing of $1,000 and lunch with the CEO at the holiday party. Our receptionist (who was probably the lowest paid person in the company and technically a temp worker, but temps were always included in company events) won and everyone at the party was cheering and congratulating him. He works so hard and all of us were so happy that he was the one who got the extra.

      I do not understand people who think others are “beneath” them and therefore don’t deserve good things.

  3. quill*

    OP, probably the best way to protect your individual reputation with coworkers across the company, if anyone (rightfully) recalls Gaston’s actions and (less rightfully) attributes them to your team, is to make it clear that you are not covering for Gaston.

    “Oh, you’re from team racist?”
    “That’s Gaston. He gives us a bad name.” (Or some more professional version thereof, which I am insufficiently caffeinated to formulate.)

    1. MsM*

      Yep. Do not downplay, excuse, or otherwise endorse Gaston. Be clear he speaks for himself, and absolutely no one else. Or at least not you.

    2. Sparkles McFadden*

      Yes, OP, I am sorry but your attempt to be diplomatic made you look very bad. It makes it sound as if you agreed that sending a company-wide email saying horrible things is a perfectly understandable reaction to disappointment. If you didn’t want to bad-mouth your coworker, a response of “Please don’t lump us all in with that guy” would have been better than downplaying the situation. Calling him a racist outright would have been fine too because he publicly stated that he’s a racist.

      I don’t understand what is up with your manager. The manager definitely should have spoken to Gaston when your reported his behavior instead of being his apologist. After the part of the letter describing Gaston sending a company wide email, I expected to read that Gaston had been fired. The fact that no action seems to have been take makes me think the person calling the department racist is not far off the mark.

      1. Zelda*

        This.

        Protecting racists aligns a person with the racists. LW, do not protect Gaston ever again. Let him have a nice long examination of the underside of that bus, because he earned it.

      2. Lana Kane*

        I suspect what’s up with the manager is that they don’t like conflict, and this situation is a doozy for people with no spine.

        1. All the words*

          You’re very kind, because my take would be that the manager silently agrees with Gaston.

          1. L'étrangere*

            I totally agree with that interpretation. A manager who didn’t agree would have done -something- to mitigate the situation, even if it’s really unforgivable. And the fact that there seem to be other openly racist assholes under them absolutely confirms that impression. So OP, it’d be time to minimally transfer out of that department if you don’t want to be painted by the same brush. I’d imagine you might find much sympathy elsewhere if you discreetly let it be known why you’re looking

            1. Worldwalker*

              It could be either assorted -isms or managerial spinelessness. Given the number of letters we’ve seen here that involved managers with the spines of jellyfish, I’m inclined to lean toward the latter. “It’s not illegal” is the go-to of the invertebrate manager.

              Of course, there’s also the possibility it’s both. Spineless: it’s not illegal; Racist: it’s not wrong. Either way, that boss sucks at the golf-ball-and-garden-hose level.

            2. Artemesia*

              Exactly. An incompetent manager would have done something lame — but would have done something. This guy is probably also a racist.

          2. Summer*

            I agree with you – I think the manager agrees with Gaston and that is why he’s telling OP Gaston is free to spew his hatred with impunity. But I’m also disappointed in OP for not forcefully denouncing Gaston both to his face and to the coworker who made the comment.

            There is zero chance I would have held back on reaming out Gaston – he is a racist and classist POS who deserves to be known as a racist and classist POS by all.

      3. Observer*

        If you didn’t want to bad-mouth your coworker, a response of “Please don’t lump us all in with that guy” would have been better than downplaying the situation. Calling him a racist outright would have been fine too because he publicly stated that he’s a racist.

        Exactly.

        1. Lexi Lynn*

          Or even “That’s Gaston who may very well fit that description” if you aren’t comfortable calling it out directly.

      4. Arrghhhhh*

        I assumed that others reached out to the manager to complain and were met with the same response…which would lead me to believe he was a racist too. I know that I would have said something and would have been floored.

    3. Cj*

      This. I imagine the comment took the OP by surprise, but saying Gaston was disappointed was not the right thing to say. They should have said they were disgusted by Gaston’s attitude and comments.

      1. Red 5*

        Yeah, I’ll give the OP the benefit of the doubt that it was just one of those moments where you aren’t sure what to say because you weren’t expecting the conversation and so you try to be non-committal because WTH do you do, etc. But next time, just say Gaston was out of line, he was racist/classist/whatever term the person you’re talking to used, and you couldn’t believe he did that.

        I imagine there was a bit of “I have to work with this guy, I don’t want him to find out I was saying this about him” but honestly, he’s racist and he should be called racist and if that hurts his feelings then he shouldn’t have been racist. And the manager should have stopped the whole thing LONG before it got to the point where Gaston send a -company wide email about it-.

        Makes me wonder if there are other ways that the manager, Gaston, and potentially others on that team have been doling out microaggressions over the years and the reputation has just been built brick by brick and not on one email. But that’s wild speculation I guess.

    4. generic_username*

      Yeah, that stood out to me too. Makes excuses for him or downplaying his email is the way you get lumped in with him. I’d have said something like, “Oh no, is that how everyone sees us? That email does not reflect how I feel at all! Gaston spoke for himself only and I wish he hadn’t…”

    5. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      This idea that OP has that s/he needs to protect Gaston from his own actions…well, OP needs to protect him/herself first.
      “Yes, I was shocked by that. I know it makes us all look bad. The bigger issue is that I did report (not tell, not share, REPORT) this to management and was told that the Hispanic janitor is not a protected class, that Gaston is free to speak his mind on his lunch hour.”
      Or OP could say, “I’m not comfortable speaking about my coworkers. When I spoke up about the inappropriate conversations he was having and the email he sent, I was told that he was allowed to do this.”

      1. Cat Tree*

        I have the philosophy that I should never spend more effort to avoid calling someone racist than they spend avoiding being racist.

      2. Ace in the Hole*

        Yes, this is the route I’d take. To clear up people’s perception of you it’s important to not only explicitly say you disagree with Racist Gaston’s opinions and think he was behaving inappropriately, you also need to make it clear that you made an attempt to stop him.

        A lot of people are very good at wringing their hands and talking with other like-minded people about how awful Gastons are and how horrible it is that Gaston did the awful thing. But few people are willing to be an actual ally by taking helpful actions. LW, you DID take action! It didn’t succeed, but that’s not your fault. Let people know that you were willing to stand up for what’s right for three reasons:

        1. To clear your own reputation
        2. To let your minority coworkers know they have an actual ally at work – that can be a huge relief
        3. It might inspire other people to positive action. People are often much more willing to be the SECOND one to report a problem.

    6. Wildcat*

      “Gaston does not speak for our team or for me. I was just as disappointed to read his email.”

    7. Lacey*

      Yeah, that’s a good response. I do think the OP probably gave a weak response in part because of how weak the OP’s manager’s response was, but just saying, “Oh no, that’s only Gaston” could hardly have been perceived as going out of their way to bad mouth someone.

    8. Rose*

      Agreed. That person was being silly when he accused the entire team of being racist (God knows most of us don’t agree with everything or colleagues say), but OP went ahead and proved him right by downplaying Gaston’s actions.

      There is no diplomacy when someone’s being classist and/or racists. You either condemn their actions or you will be seen as tacitly agreeing. I get how OP would feel caught off guard but it’s something she needs to be ready for.

      1. Chi*

        They weren’t really being silly though, because for Gaston to send that in a company wide email, and not get disciplined or even spoken to for it, in fact, leads me to believe that not only is the department racist, but the entire company is – at least, management for sure is if they let that go unchecked. As a person of color, I would IMMEDIATELY be looking for a new job.

    9. Fae Kamen*

      Yeah, I was so confused by OP’s response. I would have jumped at the chance to distance myself from this and maybe even vent a little!

      Colleague: Oh! you’re from that racist team that doesn’t think people of color can win things legitimately.

      Me: Oh my god, wasn’t that email horrifying?? Etc etc

    10. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      That’s Gaston, with the support of our manager. I’m the odd one out and I wasn’t hired for my politics.

  4. Alexis Rosay*

    If Gaston thinks the janitors are so unimportant to the company, I suggest he do without their services for his work area. I mean, their contribution obviously doesn’t matter, right?

    Grrrrrrr.

    1. Popinki*

      He’s probably the one who whines the loudest if his wastebasket isn’t emptied or there’s no soap in the men’s room. It’s a shame you can’t force these dillweeds to do a service worker’s job for a month in order to teach them a lesson.

      1. Alexis Rosay*

        Not sure if this is true or apocryphal, but I heard that corporate employees at Costco have to spend time working the floor during their training period to give them an appreciation of the work their sales associates do. I wish something like that was mandatory in every company.

        1. Forrest*

          Aldi does this in their graduate scheme in the UK– your first three months are on the shop floor, full 8-6pm shifts. Puts a lot of people off!

        2. L*

          I work at a BPO company and specifically asked to spend a few days at the call center on the lines to understand the core business – and the people generating the company’s revenue.

          It was very valuable experience.

        3. GythaOgden*

          Lidls in the UK does that too. I didn’t get very far with them in the interview process, but it did impress me.

        1. many bells down*

          It’s a good thing I’m sitting alone in a parking lot right now because I just brayed the most ridiculous laugh

        2. JESUS IS THE MAN!*

          I am so glad (in a “mildly despairing for humanity” sort of way) that I was not the only one who thought this.

      1. tangerineRose*

        Yeah, that would be better. Let the janitor get a paid vacation while Gaston does the janitorial work.

    2. tangerineRose*

      “If Gaston thinks the janitors are so unimportant to the company, I suggest he do without their services for his work area.” This!!!

  5. Viki*

    If you need stronger language, “Gaston had an issue with it. I don’t agree with him, what he did and neither does the rest of my team.”

    Although I would name the racism as racism, because not doing so makes BIPOC feel like the general you of the company is okay with it. Not that this can be called a Microaggression, with a company wide email but in the response to it, seeing “disappointed” feels like you’re underplaying it.

    1. Cj*

      By saying the janitorial staff should be left out of the drawing, I suppose he didn’t technically speak out against a protected class. But it seems pretty obvious that he has an issue that this this was a Latino, Spanish accented janitor.

      It would be interesting to see if an Anglo-Saxon, English as their first language janitor won this year’s drawing is he would still have a problem with it.

      I think the manager lost his ability to hide behind saying Gaston can say what he wants to on his lunch break and when he’s not on work hours if it’s not against a protected class when he sent out the company-wide email. The email still might not have been against protected class, but I certainly hope it’s against the company’s culture. It appears that it is from the email that HR sent out, but I wonder if the manager secretly agrees with Gaston.

      1. Essess*

        He used company resources to disparage company employees using company data (the email list). Totally a disciplinary action in the making!

        1. Worldwalker*

          Yeah. Whatever he can or can’t say on his lunch break, the email was well into disciplinary territory.

      2. Red 5*

        Yeah, I’m -utterly- baffled that the company wide email wasn’t a tipping point towards some kind of disciplinary action. This clearly was something that should not have been handled with a company wide email even if he had a problem or any legitimate grievance towards the process. Obviously it should have been a discussion with HR, who then could have laid out the drawing process (not that they should have to) and you look at Gaston and say, “Well, that settles that, let’s not hear about this again.” The fact that the manager just avoided the topic as “Oh, well, we can’t control what he does on his own time,” and then ALSO didn’t do anything when he was doing things on company time…that manager is either fine with Gaston’s actions or a terrible manager.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          If the manager is fine with Gaston’s actions, he is also a terrible manager, no either or about that!
          He could be a terrible manager without agreeing with Gaston, I suppose, but even if he doesn’t agree he’s not acting with the courage of his conviction and the damage to the janitors and non-white staff remains the same.

  6. L-squared*

    The reaction of the other person from the different department just seems odd to me. I may have opinions of my coworkers on different teams. I can’t imagine going up to a completely different member of their team and accusing the whole team of that. Gastons behavior is bad, but that other coworkers is pretty bad as well.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I don’t know. Gaston’s email was an overtly hostile racist action.
      OP confirmed that their manager thinks that is perfectly acceptable.
      So that’s two of the three people that we know of in the group. It’s not a stretch to think that the person OP met knows more people in the group.
      I don’t think coworker was wrong to say, “hey, your group is racist and a staff member did a terrible thing.”
      that’s not “as bad as well” as sending a company wide racist email. In fact, it’s a favor to OP, letting him/her know that people have opinions. And those opinions are not improved when
      coworker says (albeit more harshly):
      “Your department has a terrible reputation for being racist,”
      And instead of acknowledging that and explaining what OP is up against, OP closed ranks to protect Gaston, “someone was just disappointed that he didn’t win a car.”

      1. Observer*

        Sorry, what the coworker did was classic guilt by association. Yes, that IS bad.

        Let’s not try to excuse bad behavior, just because another person is also misbehaving. And really making that kind o accusation unprompted really comes off as an attack. So maybe not QUITE as bad as Gaston, but very bad on its own.

        1. socks*

          He actually didn’t say the OP was racist, though. He said that she was from the racist *team*. And given that Gaston did what he did and is still on the team, I think it’s fair to say that the team as a unit has a racism problem even if not every individual member is A Racist. There’s no actual proof that he believed the OP, specifically, was racist — at least not until OP described the racist guy as “disappointed” without condemning his actions.

          1. Cj*

            The fact that Gaston is still on the team has nothing to do with how the rest of the team feels. No one on the team but the manager would be able to fire him. The OP did bring it up to the manager, who didn’t think it was a big deal, so it doesn’t sound like there’s anything the rest of the team can do about it.

    2. Gerry Keay*

      Ah yes, the old “calling out racism is just as bad as racism” argument.

      Noticing that Gaston was being racist and classist is not an “opinion,” and racism can have devastating consequences for people in a company if that racism is allowed to fester. Very cool that you’re comfortable turning a blind eye to racism — many of us are not.

      1. Observer*

        Nope. The problem is not that the coworker called Gaston out. In fact, I would say that it’s a good thing.

        But accusing *the OP* of racism is out of line. As I said, that’s classic guilt by association.

        Of course if that’s typical of this organization, then it’s important for the OP to realize this and realize that they are going to have to be a lot more vocal about their opposition.

        1. Gerry Keay*

          Disagree. No one on that team spoke out about Gaston’s behavior. If I was an observer, I would take that as tacit approval. The fact that OP went on to defend/excuse/brush off Gaston’s behavior furthers that coworker’s point.

          1. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

            What was OP supposed to do, start a reply-all war?

            1. Gerry Keay*

              I don’t know, but the point I’m driving to is that I don’t think the colleague was out of line for side-eyeing the entire team AND give OP an out, which, again, they used as an opportunity to excuse Gaston! There’s a bit of Schrodinger’s racist at play here — when you don’t know who is a dangerous racist and who isn’t, it’s safest to assume that everyone is and act accordingly.

              1. Observer*

                When you are side eyeing people for not “doing something” but you have no idea what they could have done, that’s a “you” problem. If you have a real-world expectation, that’s one thing. But this is unfair, unreasonable and does nothing to encourage people to actually do anything about bad behavior.

            2. Anon for this one*

              No, they could have actually said Gaston’s behavior was unacceptable and racist, rather than justifying it by saying he was “disappointed”.

              1. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

                100% agree that OP had a rare chance to distance themselves from being on a racist team in that moment, and flubbed it by minimizing and excusing Gaston’s behavior.

                But at the time when they had already complained to their mutual manager and seen nothing happen, what should they have done then? Ideally they would distance themselves by leaving the team/manager/coworker, i.e. find another team or another employer. But if they can’t or won’t do that, it seems awfully career-limiting for them to make a public statement e.g. by sending their own company wide email disagreeing with their manager.

      2. eisa*

        I did not understand L-Squared’s comment that way.
        Yes, assessing the behaviour of the “y’all racist yo” coworker is something of a tangent, but it’s not that we never go off on tangents here (Exhibit A : the long sub-thread “Why even give a car as a prize and not money ?” )

        Gaston deserves to be called a racist. L-Squared did not deny this; he criticized Coworker for going up to LW and basically calling him/her racist, for no better reason that LW and Gaston are on the same team.
        This criticism is, in my opinion, justified.

        I would strongly dislike being told “oh, you from the team of obnoxious assholes” for having one very visible obnoxious asshole in my team or “oh, you from the team of work-shy layabouts” for having one “Wally” on the team .. while the team supervisor fully has the offending person’s back, at that ..
        To carry the comparison further, however, if someone from a different team kvetches to me about “my” asshole colleague, I will subtly or not so subtly let them know that I agree, so this is where LW sort of fell down out of a misguided impulse of team loyalty (or maybe fear of repercussions, having already been shot down by the manager once)

        No need to point out that racism/classism is worse than regular asshattery, I know it is (I would have been livid about Gaston’s statements and not shy about letting people know it), but my point still stands.

      3. PSA*

        I agree that calling out racism is perfectly fair and justified, but not when calling out racism means assigning accountability to a work proximity associate. It’s appropriate to say it to Gaston. For the rest of the team that’s become associated with this gross colleague, calling in vs calling out is the better approach. “What Gaston said was terrible” vs “You’re one of them.”

        1. GythaOgden*

          I think it’s awkward, but let’s not pretend it equates to the same thing as what Gaston did.

    3. Elbe*

      That seemed pretty odd to me, too. The email that Gaston sent would be extremely inappropriate for most workplaces, so I would think that the more logical conclusion would be that team has one ahole and not that the whole team agrees.

      I had a similar situation at work where an employee shared a “funny” meme with the entire company that was deeply offensive. I never occurred to me that every single person on this his team felt the same way. I assumed that he was being reprimanded behind closed doors.

      There could be a history here that the LW isn’t aware of. Maybe her manager is known for being a safe harbor for this type of person. Or maybe they have a company culture of handling these types of things publicly, and the team’s silence seemed like approval to other people.

      1. Loulou*

        Same. The phrasing of the coworker’s comment was so odd that I’m wondering if that’s not quite what they said, and that maybe OP could be misremembering since they were so taken aback?

    4. 2 Cents*

      I’m in a very large organization and if a (no doubt) infamous email went out from a random guy from a particular team, that might be my only association with that team. If I then met someone else from that team, I’d probably make a comment like that, just to see if everyone on that team was a raging racist asshole or if it was limited to Gaston. And also to signal it was NOT OK by our company’s standards — and probably to get dirt on if he got in trouble. The fact he didn’t AND OP covered for him would be far more worrying.

      1. Elbe*

        Really? You’d accuse someone you’d never met of being a racist just to see if they push back on it? That seems way harsh. The LW’s coworker could have just said, “…so how about Gaston’s email, huh?” and left it open for the LW to explain that she was horrified by it.

        1. hbc*

          I’m guessing the person meant “you’re on the team that’s known for the racism,” not “Each and every person on your team must be personally racist, including you.”

          I mean, most people outside Massachusetts would be okay with calling the Patriots “that cheating team,” even if we know that very few people were out there deflating balls and whatnot.

      2. A Feast of Fools*

        I’m from a large org, too. If the only thing someone knew about my department was my co-worker’s racist company-wide email, and they said to me, “Oh, you’re from that racist team,” I would THANK THEM for letting me know that’s how we’re all being perceived because of Racist Asshole’s actions (and our manager’s inaction).

        I would also explicitly state that I don’t share Racist Asshole’s views, that I had tried to push back on it, and that I’d appreciate it if they could help the company realize what a BFD the email — and *especially* the manager’s inaction — is.

    5. Worldwalker*

      Unless Gaston’s behavior is just the latest expression of an attitude and behavior that has characterized that team for a long time. This makes the coworker’s action more understandable … and the manager’s *less* so.

      1. Jora Malli*

        OP says that in addition to sending the email, Gaston also did a lot of complaining to coworkers. If people in other departments saw that happening and then didn’t see any of Gaston’s teammates shutting him down, I can totally understand how this department could get that reputation.

    6. Lizianna*

      Given OP’s manager’s reaction to Gaston’s initial complaints, I wouldn’t be surprised if this wasn’t the first time someone from that team acted inappropriately with few consequences.

      Also, if he was talking about this during lunch, after hours, etc., and others appeared to agree (or at least didn’t make clear they disagreed), it’s possible other teams overheard that.

      Even OP’s reaction, being careful not to call Gaston a racist, excusing his response as “disappointment,” it seems like it’s not totally unfair to assume that Gaston’s team is okay with his attitude.

    7. EventPlannerGal*

      I wonder if there was something about the way the email was phrased that made it seem as though Gaston actually was speaking on behalf of the team? It’s so common for people to try and disguise their prejudiced views by claiming that they’re ~just speaking on other people’s behalf – “everybody thinks X but I’m the only one who’ll say it”, “nobody wants to admit X”, “I know lots of people who think X”, “we can all tell that X is the case”, that kind of thing. Lots of “we” and “us” and “everyone” instead of “I” to avoid taking full responsibility for their statements.

      I’m thinking that if the letter was like “we can all can see that it’s a diversity thing, janitorial shouldn’t count the same as the rest of us, people on other teams deserve it more, I know lots of people that are unhappy about this but I’ll be the one to say it – kind regards, Gaston From The Operations Department On The Fourth Floor”, that could explain why people think his views are representative of the entire team.

  7. LizB*

    (I was careful not to call Gaston a racist.)

    You don’t actually need to be careful about not calling racists what they are! Especially not when you’re talking to someone else who clearly recognizes their racism. It’s usually wise to focus on the action rather than the person (“Yeah, that email he sent was super racist and gross, I wish our manager had addressed it like I asked” vs “Yeah, he’s super racist and gross, I hate working with him”) but you don’t need to be protecting Gaston’s reputation, here. He earned it fair and square.

    1. PT*

      I disagree. The company implicitly endorsed Gaston’s behavior by saying his racist comments were “not illegal” and then not correcting them. If OP calls Gaston a racist, OP is likely to get in trouble for harassing him.

      It’s wrong and OP should hit the job market.

      1. Observer*

        Disagree. Strongly. Calling what the guy did racist is no more “illegal” than making gross comments about how “Those people” are not really part of the team and “don’t deserve” to win a prize.

        1. Liz T*

          Of course it’s not illegal. I think PT’s point is that OP’s management has shown that they protect racists rather than taking logical action against racism in the workplace, so they would likely WRONGLY label it harassment.

    2. Elsa*

      Agree with this. White people who disagree with racists, but nonetheless downplay a racist’s racism, are not helping whom they think they’re helping.

      1. MN_Jen*

        Yes! As a white woman, I know I need to fight against my socially ingrained need to “keep the peace” and try to smooth some things over. It isn’t enough to just be quietly *not racist* – we need to be loudly anti-racist. And that means standing up to racist comments during lunch, and not making excuses for the racist comments of others.

        OP may want to sit with why they were so careful not to call Gaston’s actions as racist.

      2. R7*

        +1. if you say you’re an ally, you need to realize that silence is as much of an action as saying something.

    3. PT*

      And I’ll clarify, I once got in trouble at work for ensuring a sex offender who had offended on our premises in a pre-hire job training was no longer allowed on the premesis. “You’ve taken this too far just drop it already it’s not a big deal.” I was working with HR and the agencies who sponsored the training program, it’s hardly “too far.”

    4. Jora Malli*

      I really like your script.

      OP, you do not need to protect Gaston from the consequences of his actions. Your boss has that part covered. If people ask you about it, it’s totally fine for you to say that Gaston did a racist thing, you don’t agree with it, and you’ve asked your manager to address it. If this ruin’s Gaston and Lefou’s (I’ve decided the boss is Lefou, BTW) reputation, it’s their own behavior that did that.

    5. JJ*

      This is the reply I was looking for.

      LW, it’s ok to call out racism as such and it’s especially important to do so if you are white presenting. Some [racist] people have really pushed the idea that calling someone’s actions or words out as racist is racism in itself which is not correct and serves to push the goalposts of “real” racism.

    6. Susanna*

      Exactly. If “free speech” means Gaston can say something racist, then free speech means LW can call him, or at least his language, racist. I’d love to see the clueless manager complain about that.

    7. wittyrepartee*

      Ok, so… I would have trouble calling a coworker a racist, not because I don’t agree but because I have to work with them and I need to not be constantly enraged. So, I’ve usually split the difference by calling their actions racist. Like “oh yeah, Gaston, the guy who wrote that super racist email. That was messed right?”
      I’m white-presenting but of a mixed Latina background. I’d already be furious, sometimes you need to not feed the fire.

      1. LizB*

        That makes complete sense, and your script is great. I don’t think any individual is obligated to call their coworker “a racist” if the context they’re in makes that a bad idea for whatever reason (in your case, your own mental health/ability to continue functioning). Focusing on actions also has the benefit of being more persuasive to someone who might not be as well-versed in antiracism. But it seems this LW has internalized the very common idea that someone being called “A Racist” is as hurtful/harmful/bad as whatever racist act they perpetrated. That’s simply not the case.

        1. wittyrepartee*

          Yeah, you also don’t need to like- be making a judgement on the totality of someone’s being in order to say that an action was racist. Like, Gaston has a rich inner life that I’m not privy to, goodness knows what’s going on in there, but that there email was pretty bad.
          And yeah, it’s easier to engage people with that kind of language. Especially because plenty of well meaning people say stupid shit all the time (this includes myself). Letter-writer, for instance, might have responded better to it.

      2. The Original K.*

        There’s a great video by a guy named Jay Smooth called “How to Tell People They Sound Racist.” He talks about making the distinction between “that thing you did was racist” and “you are racist.” It’s great. Link to follow.

    8. Rigamaroll*

      This is a great suggestion and I completely agree that he should not be protected in anyway.
      The manager and HR are not handling this well.

    9. OhGee*

      Yeah, he was racist. I know it’s uncomfortable to say this stuff aloud, but if allies don’t call out racism and classism at work, nobody will.

    10. Bagpuss*

      Yes, I think that if you worded it as being ‘disappointed’ and avoided calling Gaston racist then I don’t think it’s altogether surprising that the person wasn’t convinced that you / the rest of your team were OK with his behaviour.

      If it comes up again, then if you say “I assume you mean Gaston’s gross e-mail? I spoke to [manager] at the time about how racist it was, but he told me he couldn’t do anything. Gaston certainly doesn’t speak for me and I don’t think he speaks for the whole team ” (I’d phrase it like that since it sounds as though your team manager was OK with it, so it’s apparently not just Gaston, it’s Gaston and the manager.

      I am not sure that sending round a firm wide e-mail now is going to change anything – I am however really curious about whether you, or anyone else, replied to company wide e-mail – Did anyone respond to say no, Janitorial staff are employees like everyone else and should absolutely be included, and you’re really happy for Winner?

      You could perhaps contact HR, express concern, both at what Gaston said, the fact that you raised it with your manager and were told they would do nothing, both when you originally raised it and when you raised the further concern that it has resulted in other workers seeing your whole department as racist. Maybe ask whether they can look at providing some formal diversity training.

      Moving forward, if anyone mentions it, I would respond much more strongly in the moment to pro-actively make clear how disgusted you were and that you tried to get your manager to address it at the time – and maybe if the same offer is made this year respond to say you would like it to continue as it was so successful the last two years, and a great way of including everyone.

    11. Observer*

      You don’t actually need to be careful about not calling racists what they are! Especially not when you’re talking to someone else who clearly recognizes their racism. I

      This. OP, you’re getting clobbered with comments like this. But I think it’s something you really need to think about. Why did you feel the need to avoid calling it out? So much that you even specifically mentioned it in your letter?

      1. Worldwalker*

        If the person in question is someone who can cause you problems at work — anything from being buddy-buddy with your manager (which seems to describe Gaston) to just slow-walking things you need from them, then you do have to be careful not to aggravate them, at least until you’ve got another job waiting.

        Calling Gaston a racist would only work if a) he thinks a racist is a bad thing to be, and b) he thinks you’re correct that he is one. I’d bet you dollars to donuts that if you asked Gaston, he’d say he isn’t a racist — he’s just right/realistic/honest. If he even sees racism as bad, he’s careful to define “racist” to exclude himself. In short, it’s not going to do any good, but Gaston might retaliate *anyway*. (not that this is logical, but clearly, neither is Gaston)

        Saying “that was a racist email” gives him something of an opportunity to save face. There is a possibility that he might look at it as “people don’t like my position” rather than “people don’t like me” and potentially change that position to conform with what people like. (whereas he can’t change being him) Sure, it’s not a huge chance — if he was amenable to changing his mind about racism, he probably would have a long time ago — but at least it’s a non-zero chance.

        Calling out a racist isn’t a win.
        Making a racist feel bad isn’t a win.
        Making a racist not act like a racist anymore — that’s the win.

        1. Willow*

          I would say the goal isn’t just to change the racist’s mind, it’s to have the back of people of color in the company. Convincing Gaston he is racist and should change his behavior may be impossible, especially coming from a coworker rather than a close friend or family member. Coddling him in the name of trying to change his mind just looks like you tolerate his racism. But making it clear you disagree with Gaston and trying to support POC in the company is valuable and more achievable.

        2. Observer*

          I don’t disagree with you. But.

          The OP didn’t call out the action either. They merely said that some people were “disappointed”. And if calling the email classist / racist / awful to someone who has already made it clear that they found it despicable is going to get the OP in trouble, then they need to be job searching. HARD. Because that’s a truly bad working environment. So, no matter how you slice it, the OP needs to think about what’s going on here.

    12. Wintermute*

      at work a little more circumspection is called for, because like it or not, you need to maintain working relationships until you’re ready to go.

      In private life, absolutely, but I don’t think they can be blamed for not wanting to throw that grenade into things while they’re still earning their livlihood at that company. Given the boss’ reaction, I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if saying baldly that Gaston is racist was found to be punishable in some way. And while depending on exact details of what’s said and done yes, that might be illegal, it’s the kind of legal battle you almost never win.

      1. wittyrepartee*

        I feel like the correct response was like “oh Christ, that email. Yeah, I dunno- that’s Gaston, not me.”

      2. Observer*

        You need more circumspection at work than in your personal life. True. But not THIS much.

        Agreeing that Gaston’s email was bad is not “throwing a grenade” into the relationship. If anything was a grenade, Gaston’s email fits the bill.

  8. HugeTractsofLand*

    I hope the janitor and his lovely family enjoy their prize, and I hope they tape a picture of Gaston underneath one of the tires. That man deserves to have his racist, whiny self flattened out symbolically since his non-boss won’t straighten him out professionally!

    1. Insert Clever Name Here*

      Using a picture of Gaston to wipe the dipstick every time they check the oil would also be satisfying.

      1. Properlike*

        Then leave it in Gaston’s trash can. Every time. Dump all the trash EXCEPT that picture. Every time.

      1. Midwest Teacher*

        So the janitor should have to be the “bigger person” and potentially subjected to Gaston’s racist classist diatribes? Absolutely not. Racists are not owed civility.

  9. louvella*

    This is bizarre on so many levels and this guy is incredibly racist and classist but also like…why a car? Like I guess if I won this I would accept the car and sell it but what a pain if you don’t need a car!

      1. MGW*

        A YouTuber – Danny Gonzalez – did a video kinda on this because I guess a lot of big name YouTubers were doing “car giveaways” where they gave someone a free Tesla. He did a bunch of research and ultimately the conclusion was the best way to give someone a free car where they a) wouldn’t have to end up having to pay more for it than they could afford (bc of taxes) and b) would actually get the car they wanted was to…just give them the money. And give them extra money after doing some math so they would still have enough after taxes to buy a luxury car. Then he told the person he ended up choosing that they didn’t actually have to spend it on the car if they didn’t want to. It was really interesting

        1. Random Bystander*

          Yes–my church does an annual raffle to benefit the school, and the top prize is either a choice of a new car (several listed choices with list price of $25k) *or* the winner may opt for the cash and is noted to be subject to tax. (If I were to win–well, I have a 22yo fridge, a 22yo oven, and a 21yo furnace–and a functional car.)

        2. londonedit*

          Yeah, there are adverts all over the TV here for ‘million-pound draws’ where some of the entry fee goes to charity and the prize is an enormous house that’s worth £3.5 million or whatever. Which sounds great on the surface, but I don’t know many people who would be able to afford the upkeep on the sort of huge houses they’re giving away. They present it as an amazing opportunity to either live there, rent it out or sell up and pocket the cash, but even if you chose to let or sell it, that’s a major hassle and a huge legal burden to take on. I just can’t imagine it being as good as it’s cracked up to be!

          1. Bagpuss*

            I always wonder with those draws who pays the stamp duty etc – most people aren’t going to be able to move to wherever the house happens to be, and at the very least you’d have things like council tax to pay until you could sell it – I wonder whether they offer to buy it straight back at a steep discount …?

          2. Selina Luna*

            We have similar contests in the US and… if they would advertise a reasonably sized house, something like the $200,000 versions I’m looking at right now, I might consider entering. As it is, I don’t need a $3.5 million dollar house and I hate to even imagine trying to pay the taxes and charges for it.

            I haven’t worked for a business for over a decade, and when I did, the only prize anyone ever entered a drawing to win was a DVD. That’s how I got my copy of Underworld. I’m okay with that.

        3. littlehope (formerly Blue, there were two of us)*

          The best way to help someone, if you want to do something financially helpful, is pretty much always just Give Them Money.

          1. Red 5*

            Same with charities, and usually it’s to give them undesignated funds. Especially if the charity does work in disaster relief, because they have to move so fast and spend so quickly that they’ll end up with thousands of dollars earmarked for a specific disaster when they’ve already spent a bunch on from their general fund, which is then depleted for the next disaster.

            Obviously this is all with the caveat that you need to research individual charities before you donate, etc. But I used to work with people who did food pantries and they would say that they can ALWAYS get more out of you giving them $1 than they can out of you giving them $1 worth of food because of the deals they have set up with different suppliers. On top of that, they know what they actually need on a day to day basis and they have to pay for the storage costs of whatever they don’t actively need.

            There are so, so many financial needs that I can name off the top of my head that my friends are going through right now, and none of them is “I just don’t have the money for a new car.” I’m not saying that’s not common, just that if you want to be truly helpful it’s better to be flexible in how you help because everybody is dealing with a different life challenge.

            1. Selina Luna*

              Related to this post, if you’re going to donate blood, don’t wait until a disaster to do so. Donate blood now, and as often as you’re able to do so. Especially if you’re RH negative.
              Waiting until there’s a disaster (much like the charity funding above) means that they now have way more extremely perishable blood than they need for this one thing, and they’re actually going to be more short than usual in a few weeks when people aren’t donating because they think the crisis is over.

            2. doreen*

              I’m just going to repeat your caveat about researching individual charities because I’ve known a couple of small food pantries that pre-COVID preferred donations rather than cash ( the one I still know about now takes cash donations and distributes supermarket vouchers) They were small enough that they didn’t have any of those deals set up so they couldn’t buy any more food with your dollar than you could – the volunteers would have taken cash donations and shopped at the same supermarkets where the donors would have shopped so cash donations actually crated more work for the volunteers.

      2. Bob-White of the Glen*

        Yep – many a game show winner has been in shock when the tax bill came on their overpriced cars and trips! (I think the big game shows are much better now, and contestants can opt out of a prize if they don’t want the tax bill.)

        1. Phony Genius*

          This happened when Oprah gave away all those cars to her audience. Many people got stuck with large tax bills.

          I read a blog from somebody who won a car and more on a major national game show. He said California state law mandated that he pay state and federal taxes first before they could release the prizes. (About 37% total.) His local car dealer offered to buy the prize voucher from him. Even though it was at a discount, he still profited.

          In this situation, because the employer is awarding the prize, I would imagine that there would have to be a tax withholding for its value taken from the next paycheck (or several checks). If any tax attorneys are reading this, please tell me if I’m wrong.

    1. Colette*

      Yeah, the prize in itself is problematic. Not just that not everyone wants a car, but presumably some people can’t drive a car, or choose to live their lives in such a way that a car is not needed.

      But Gaston’s terrible behaviour is not excused by the bad prize.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        It’s possible the OP lives somewhere without public transportation or a good way to get around without a car. If I won something big like a car that I didn’t need, I would either bow out (they said there’s an option to redraw) or give it to someone who could use it.

        1. Colette*

          But if they hire a diverse workforce (including people with medical issues that mean they can’t drive), they’re excluding people from a draw intended to raise morale.

          1. J.E.*

            The winner has a family and got a mini van, so I assume it ended up being a welcome functional gift to transport the family.

            1. Colette*

              Sure, for some people, it’s a great prize! And others are essentially left out, since it’s not something they could ever use. If that’s the company’s goal, they’re doing great. But if they want to recognize all of their employees, they’re not.

              1. JustaTech*

                I think this is the challenge with pretty much all prizes: some people won’t want them or won’t be able to use them. We had a contest at work that I was obligated to take part in (yay social committee) and I was extremely clear that I did *not* want to win because the only prize was a pair of standing-room-only tickets to a football game in an ear-bleeding-ly loud stadium.
                But that prize sure motivated the heck out of some folks!

                Sometime people are just more interested in/motivated by a *specific* thing than the equivalent amount of money. And for whatever reason in much of the US, money is seen as a “lesser” gift.

              2. Worldwalker*

                It’s not even a matter of people with limitations.

                My car is perfectly good. I don’t *want* a fancy new car, with all the higher taxes and insurance attached. I want a new roof. It might not be as newsworthy as giving away a car, but $X that I could put toward getting the roof replaced would be a *whole* lot more useful to me. How many other people are there out there like me? They don’t want cars, they want to pay off their student loans, replace their flaky plumbing, or any of a virtually infinite number of other expenses.

                Supposedly the average person buys a car every six years, that means there’s an 83% chance that the winner isn’t ready to replace their car right now.

          2. Butterfly Counter*

            I can still see it raising morale. If it was decided this was what they were doing for Christmas, it would be fun to be entered and just see if I won. If I did, hey cool! But please do a redraw because I don’t want a new car or to pay the taxes. This way, I feel generous to the next person who wins. If my options are that and a generic company-wide Christmas party, I’ll take the interesting prize drawing, even if it means I will turn down the prize if I win.

          3. lilsheba*

            I agree with this. A car is not a benefit to everyone. If I won a car I would be disappointed because I couldn’t drive it, and my husband already drives a great car. I’d rather have money.

          4. Beth*

            This is exactly what I was thinking. A car as the only option for a prize in an-all company drawing that substitutes for an all-company party is slightly ableist. I suppose the reason they didn’t just Give Them the Money has to do with the tax consequences of a non-performance related cash bonus, for the company as well as the recipient. I can’t drive due to medical reasons. If I were selected, I’d have to pass.

      2. Anonys*

        I agree that the car idea is terrible. Personally i dont even have a licence so if my company did this I would feel left out.

        But also, I don‘t get why they do a big thing where one person gets a very specific gift of huge monetary value and the rest get nothing? Why not use the money, split among all employees and give them one of those generic gift cards you can use everywhere? Having a big prize and a draw with loads of tam tam might cause more uproar and excitement but will also cause disappoint. For example if the inverse of the situation here happened – such as a highly paid employee getting the car, i could totally understand if less well paid employees (such as janitors) who might be struggling to make ends meet would be upset.

        Or you might have an employee win one year and then quit a month later and people might have feelings about that.

        It would be different if this was some kind of charity raffle and the local car dealership was sponsoring this win. But this is the christmas party money and I think it should be used to benefit all employees (even if only in a small way)

        1. ThatGirl*

          This is why I am grateful that my current company just gives everyone money at Christmas. It’s not a huge amount – although I’m not totally sure if everyone gets the same amount – but I got $300 last year. It was a nice surprise and definitely more appreciated than a rubber chicken and 2 drink tickets.

        2. Bagpuss*

          It depends -if the funds would run to one relatively inexpensive car or everyone getting a small amount in gift cards then you may find that people in general would rather have the chance at a prize – and if it is the chance of a prize or a Christmas party then I can definitely see the appeal.

          I don’t think you’re ever going to appeal to everyone.

          Over the years I have had involvement in trying to fo nice stuff for employees and the conclusion I have reached is no matter what you do, someone will always moan – including if you have given people choices and/or the opportunity to vote.

          1. Anonys*

            Yeah, I know noone is ever going to be happy but one big prize just seems like an objectively terrible idea to me.

            My guess is, once someone wins and then quits in January, management is not going to think it’s a good idea anymore either.

            Which also brings me to – if I won such a big, company paid for prize , I would worry that it would come with implicit strings. I think i would feel implicitly pressured to be grateful and praise the company to coworkers/publicly (even if conditions and pay are otherwise not great) or maybe even have less capital to spend in negotiating things like raises – “you just got a huge prize noone else got, shouldnt you be happy” or even my coworkers resenting it if I get a raise and promotion on the heels of getting the prize.

            Basically, in my view, a big prize for one person is objectively a bad idea, even if the majority of people prefer it to a small gift for everyone.

            1. L.H. Puttgrass*

              You might be surprised.

              The “small amount of money” vs. “small chance at a large amount of money” things comes up in empirical behavioral research, for example, where you have a limited budget but want participants to genuinely care about the rewards (or incentives) offered. I don’t have the research handy to cite, but my impression was that you actually get better results with a “prize” of a 10% chance of getting a $100 gift card as opposed to just making the prize $10 for everyone. Things get funky at the boundaries (people are really bad at evaluating small probabilities, so the longer the odds, the more people overestimate their chances), but in general, people do seem to prefer a chance at a big prize over a small payment equivalent to the expected value.

              That’s not to say that a payment towards a car—and only a car—is a good idea. That part seems objectively bad to me, for reasons others have already mentioned. But a drawing for one big prize vs. everyone getting a $10 gift card? Yes, I can see people preferring that.

              1. Metadata minion*

                I’d be interested to see if this holds true for workplace rewards as well. I can see why I might be more likely to sign up to do something for a chance to win big than for a definite $10, but in a workplace, I’m not choosing to do something extra. My employer is giving me what’s at least theoretically an acknowledgement of my work and I’d rather have a small amount of money than have them treat it like a game show.

      3. Coconutty*

        That doesn’t make the prize problematic, it just makes it a prize not everyone would want. The LW said that if the winner didn’t want it, they could decline and the company would redraw. It sounds like it was a very welcome prize for both winners so far and many other employees were enthusiastic about the possibility.

      4. This is a name, I guess*

        I found it weird they offered a car, but perhaps they could be in the auto industry (or adjacent).

    2. Office Lobster DJ*

      Yeah, it’s not the point of the letter and presumably OP has no control over the offered prize, but this struck me as well. Only people who can drive and can pay the taxes / upkeep / make up the difference in price get to have a happy holiday, I guess.

      1. Wendy*

        This, and a lot of people don’t NEED a car – or at least, would take a new car over their current one if it’s that or nothing but have perfectly serviceable transportation and would prefer the cash, thankyouverymuch. This seems like such an odd choice instead of, idk, yearly bonuses!

        1. Theothermadeline*

          I mean, I imagine people in the ‘would take a new one’ camp would sell their current car and get that cash + a new car

        2. Boof*

          But a lot of people do need a car and this could be a huge help. No one prize is going to please everyone; the company polled people and they favored this prize, and if you don’t want it you can let someone else have it. Seems fine.

      1. londonedit*

        That doesn’t seem fair, though – someone who doesn’t have a driving licence wins, or who can’t afford to run a car, or who doesn’t have parking where they live, and their only option is to let someone else take the prize? Not particularly fair, if you ask me. They should at least have a cash alternative, or the ‘company-wide’ prize draw isn’t really company-wide at all.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          . . . I think the fact that Gaston is still employed there suggests that there is more than a little wrongheadedness going on in this place.

        2. Essess*

          What hits me is what if someone has a medical condition so they can’t drive. That means they are never able to have a chance at the annual reward. Seems to be discrimination due to medical conditions at that point and could have repercussions if there was no alternate equivalent prize.

          1. This is a name, I guess*

            If you wanted the hassle, you could accept the car and then sell it. It’s not like you need to KEEP the car.

            1. Metadata minion*

              Now I’m curious how this would actually work — I don’t have a driver’s license. Do they just drop the car off at my house and leave it there while I figure out how to sell it? My apartment doesn’t have a dedicated parking spot and so if I needed to move the car, I have no way to legally do so. I also legitimately *don’t know how to drive* and so can’t safely move the car, even illegally.

        3. Coconutty*

          It doesn’t have to be “fair.” This isn’t part of their compensation, it’s a fun prize for the holidays. As long as everybody has an equal chance of winning, it’s fine. It doesn’t need to be something that everyone would be equally pleased to win.

      2. Colette*

        If the goal is to reward their employees, drawing for something a portion of your employees can’t use or don’t want is a poor way to do that.

        1. Nia*

          I’m not being sarcastic I do actually need you to explain it to me why its worse. I don’t need to need a new car so I would be perfectly happy to have it go to someone else. And I would still prefer that to a Christmas party. So I don’t understand the problem.

          1. Susanna*

            Well – because the contest limits the potential winners to a certain class/group of people. Like, a “vacation” that includes air fare and hotel but not meals or transport to the airport. Only those who can afford the gift are truly eligible to get it.

            1. Cj*

              It’s way easier to sell a car, pay the taxes, and still come out ahead in cash then sell something like a vacation.

              People are not going to buy a vacation package, furniture, and other items at their fair value from somebody that won it in contest. They would just go buy them at retail from a travel agent/furniture store . Cars are about the only thing you can win, sell, pay taxes on and come out with a reasonable amount of cash.

              I still think they should have the option to just take the cash, but I would still take the car and sell it rather than pass it on to the next person if I won. I probably wouldnt bother with any other type of prize.

          2. Nanani*

            It’s a holiday draw meant to boost morale.
            So there’s a draw that’s supposed to make -everyone- happy but it’s also saying “Oh not you Nia :)” because you don’t need the car. And also not me, because I can’t drive, and not Bob because he lives a block away and downtown parking would be ridiculously expensive even if he did take it. And not the unpaid intern who can’t afford to put gas in it.

            There is a clear contradiction between a morale boosting holiday event, and excluding a bunch of people from the prize. The fact that the only option for people who can’t take the prize is to decline entirely – not get a substitute prize – makes it downright awful.

            (though I’m with you on preferring it to an actual party)

            1. Nia*

              I guess where I’m hung up is that only one employee is going to win anyway so this prize is useless to 99% of the company whether they could have used it or not. If the company was saying we’ll give every employee $1,000 toward a new car I’d see the problem.

              1. Huh*

                Because they’re limiting the pool of winners to only those who can afford it or use it. They are already ruling out people before the drawing even happens, so it’s not open to 100% of the company and only 1 person wins. It’s only open to maybe 63% of the company and the rest are left out of the fun (if you consider the possibility of winning a car fun, which the company is apparently hoping their people do).

                1. Nia*

                  But the perk isn’t the drawing its the car. This is a perk that is only useful to one person in the company per year. Sure in your scenario only 63% can win but since only one person will win the perk is just as useless to all but one of that 63% as it is to the 37%

                2. On a pale mouse*

                  Clearly it is the drawing, on some level, otherwise people wouldn’t prefer it to a party. And nobody would gamble at all on anything.

                  Put another way, many people are apparently choosing “small chance at a car” over “guaranteed party.” So “small chance at a car” must have some value to people.* People who have no use for a car aren’t getting that value – they’re getting guaranteed nothing, with a side order of “we didn’t bother to think about you.”

                  *If the party is mandatory, I guess it’s possible there are people for whom guaranteed party has negative value because they don’t want to go, in which case chance at car could be very low value or zero and still come out ahead.

                3. Nia*

                  I would prefer the drawing to the party even if the party was optional and even though I could not use the car. And I don’t think I’m alone in that. So I don’t agree at all that the drawing must be the perk.

                4. On a pale mouse*

                  And since people are saying it elsewhere, yes, this is totally a side issue. Although I’d suggest that if they’re not paying the taxes the employee will hand to pay on the car, then the choice of prize is probably classiest, which seems to fit in with the rest of the company’s actions here.

                5. Huh*

                  Nia – You don’t need to feel the problem personally for there to be a problem with it. People who are left out do have a problem with it, and that’s what matters.

              2. Nanani*

                There’s a difference between “I only have a small chance of winning” and “I definitely won’t win but am expected to be excited anyway”

              3. Essess*

                It’s the same anger that employees have when they hear that the C-suite employees are getting big bonuses or vacations as rewards, but the rest of the bonuses are cancelled for the rest of the employees. If you are omitted from being considered for a reward that by definition is supposed to reward employees for their efforts for the entire year, that’s the opposite of morale boosting.

          3. Drayuh*

            Because a prize that would likely be a huge financial burden to many people at a company, particularly those in lower paid jobs, creates a situation where people take a financial hit or have to pass?

            1. This is a name, I guess*

              Except the janitor – one of the lowest paid employees in most companies – won the car and bought a minivan. So, apparently the company offered enough money to make it feasible for the employees at the lower end of earnings.

          4. Yorick*

            I agree, Nia. I don’t have a license and if I won I’d probably tell them to redraw. But I still think it’s fun and I’d feel good for whoever won. Personally, I’d like a Christmas party and I would’ve voted for that. But since most people prefer this drawing I wouldn’t mind.

            Yes, I’d RATHER they offered money or something everyone could use, but almost nothing fits that. Maybe I don’t need any extra money and I’d rather get more vacation days, so am I gonna whine about the cash drawing? No.

            1. New Jack Karyn*

              Come on. Surely you can see the difference between $20,000 toward a car and $20,000 in cash. One prize locks out a subset of people from seeing any real benefit, and the other does not.

              1. Yorick*

                Sure, I do think a cash drawing would be better. But commenters are acting like it’s horribly oppressive because some people won’t benefit, and as a person who wouldn’t benefit, I’m here to say I wouldn’t be so upset. And that’s because only one person is getting this anyway. If they were giving out cars or car-related items to everyone, then I’d wish they’d have thought of something I could enjoy. But since I’m statistically unlikely to receive the benefit anyway, they might as well give out something that the vast majority of people would like.

                And honestly, some commenters are acting like winning a car would just be the worst thing in the world. Come on. The vast majority of people I know would be thrilled to win a car, even if they were gonna sell it and keep their old car.

                1. New Jack Karyn*

                  It was your line about “Maybe I don’t need any extra money” that rubbed me the wrong way.

      3. louvella*

        I mean, you can decline, sure, but if I won I would absolutely take it and sell it, I certainly wouldn’t consider declining! I would just wish I could skip that step. I cannot afford $150 a month for parking a car at my building, and I don’t have a license.

    3. Alexis Rosay*

      Ehhh, I’m strongly for everyone moving away from noxious gas-guzzling machines that harm the planet as well as other human beings…but the reality is that the vast majority of people do rely on cars to get around and a low-paid person like a janitor is likely to benefit from a new car because living close to work and/or on major transit lines is generally more expensive. In this case, I’m gonna just appreciate that the company is doing something that might actually help an employee rather than dropping a bunch of money on a holiday party no one wants.

      1. Nanani*

        So? What if “the majority” needs it. “The majority” being one way makes no difference to people who aren’t in it. We aren’t talkign about probabilities, but about the exclusion and the even worse workaround when you can’t use the prize.

        1. londonedit*

          Exactly – if the prize was six cases of champagne and the options were ‘take the prize or we give it to someone else’, people would (rightly) be all over that pointing out that many people don’t drink for all sorts of reasons. The majority of adults do drink, but a significant proportion don’t and it’s unfair to exclude them from something that’s meant to be a perk. It’s the same with this – it’s unfair to exclude people who don’t drive, whether that’s for environmental reasons or financial reasons or ‘grew up in London, never needed to learn’ reasons. There are also several medical conditions that mean people can’t drive. A car is just an odd prize if there’s no cash alternative – it’s restricting the chance to win a prize to a certain section of the company.

          1. Guacamole Bob*

            I’m glad someone else mentioned the alcohol example – that’s what occurred to me, too. Just give people cash, or cash-out options, or choice of gift.

      2. Anonys*

        But „holiday party noone really wants“ and „car” are not the only two options available. Imo the real issue is relying on a “only one person wins” system in the first place. Just give everyone gift cards:cash even if the amount only ends up being 10-20 dollars each

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          Yeah, it’s totally bizarre to have one person win something and to have the prize be something huge. Why not do bonuses or (choice of a few) gifts or provide snacks every Friday or something? You may not always hit something that every last person is thrilled with, but at least make an effort to make it something positive for most people!

        2. Justgivemethecash*

          I changed companies this past fall. At my old company we had a huge holiday party where everyone got trashed and all kinds of bad behavior ensued. That was the extent of our holiday celebrations. My new company handed out a card signed by the owner to ever employee with $25 cash and a $10 speedway card inside, and since we sell bedding, everyone got a really nice memory foam or tempurpedic pillow of their choice. I was shocked to be hand a card containing cash but it was fantastic and I didn’t have to show up to a work event on my own time and pretend to have a good time with people I am not friends with.

      3. hbc*

        I think the fact that so many people need a car makes this even weirder. 90% of the people probably have a car (because they need one) that’s in reasonably good working condition. So now they’re going to have more cars than they need and a tax bill on top of it. So unless you happened to hit a person just as their lease is expiring or their car is about to be sent to the scrap yard, you’re going to have a lot of effort spent and money lost compared to what the company is actually putting in.

    4. Nanani*

      Right? The detail where you can’t exchange it for cash but also they only pay a specific amount of cash to the car is really weird.
      Car free people aren’t welcome to participate? People with disabilities precluding driving? People who just bought a new car and don’t have space for a second one, even?
      This isn’t really the main point but it’s still kinda messed up.

    5. Anna*

      yep- came here to say that, even aside from the insane racism/classism at play here, the car raffle seems like a really strange replacement for a Christmas party…

    6. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      This is where I thought the letter was going, but instead it was so much worse!

    7. Lab Boss*

      I’m guessing Gaston was at least a little right about one thing, although not for the reason he thought: the company wants to get a photo op out of the prize drawing. If you can’t get a bunch of cool photos of the chill party, a photo of a jubilant employee with a big ticket prize like a car plays great on social media.

    8. Nia*

      If you couldn’t use a new car why wouldn’t you just decline so that someone who could use it could have it.

      1. Susanna*

        Yes, you could decline it – but the point then is that people who wold most benefit from a big gift can’t actually compete for it, since they can’t afford to pay the taxes. etc.
        Though of course Gaston’s racism and classism, and the company’s tolerance of it, are MUCH bigger problems.

      2. Guacamole Bob*

        Because declining something worth tens of thousands of dollars is not going to feel great to most people. Some people would accept the car only to turn around and sell it for the cash, which is a giant pain in the neck, results in tax paperwork, and would leave the person with less cash than if the company had just written them a check.

      3. louvella*

        Because I could sell it for money, which is what I would do, it would just be a pain…

      4. Yorick*

        I’d be overjoyed if I won an expensive item that I could sell for money. Sure, it might be less money than if the company just gave away money, but it’s more money than I had before.

    9. Gracely*

      Yeah, I mean…presumably if it’s enough $$ to buy a car, it would be enough to give nice gift cards out in lieu of a party? I’d guess they’d need to put $10-$15k down minimum to make that a useful help towards buying a new car, and even if you’ve got 200 employees, that works out to $50 to $75. Which isn’t a ton, but *everyone* gets something.

    10. Rigamaroll*

      Yea I find the car odd- I know that isn’t the point of the letter and I added support to what verbiage OP could use in the future under another comment- but I can’t get over the car prize?
      I’m wondering how many people are in the company and how much they put towards the car? It’s odd that they are replacing a party which everyone can enjoy, with a prize that only 1 person can enjoy. Why not take the amount they can afford, divide it by # of employees and then give a small gift card or something?

    11. Not So NewReader*

      OP says they voted between a party or a car drawing and the majority wanted the car drawing.

      If you didn’t need a car you could let them draw another name. This question isn’t about the car drawing- it’s about what happened next. Talking about the car kind of misses the point- this is actually about racism.

      1. louvella*

        Oh it’s definitely about racism, for sure. It is also just such an odd scenario in the first place, I don’t think commenting on that means overlooking the racism.

    12. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      There’s a weird caveat, you can turn it down. OK, then you win, but you get nothing. So you can’t opt out, you can just look ungrateful or out of touch by turning down the prize…and again, get nothing.

    13. Elbe*

      It’s a little odd, but I assume that the LW works in an automotive industry and that they’re choosing a car because it’s relevant to what they do.

      And I guess there’s nothing preventing the recipient from accepting the car, taking a photo with it, waiting a few days, and then selling it again.

    14. Monkey Fracas Jr.*

      Yeah I’m having trouble getting over this as well. This just seems designed to breed resentment. Why not just give everyone a little holiday bonus? Why such a giant gift that the receiver will have to pay taxes on? Why turn this into a liability by excluding people that cannot drive due to a disability? Just… why?!

  10. calonkat*

    I think this sentence “People won’t normally assume one person’s rogue agenda represents everyone else who happens to be on their team, unless that team rallies around them or already has a reputation for the types of opinions that were expressed.” may underplay it a bit.

    He sent a company wide email, and the response from his team and co-workers wasn’t another company wide email saying “Of course Janitor1 won fair and square and all employees of the company are valued.”, OR a company wide email saying that “Racistcoworker will be taking a 2 week vacation.” So everyone else WILL sort of assume you guys are cool with that. I really think SOME sort of action from your team or administration should have been taken, and if you are all allowed to harass people right up to the point it’s illegal, well, then the opinion is correct, you have a terrible team to work for and that sort of person is who will want to work for your team.

    1. Colette*

      I don’t think it was the responsibility of others on the team to send another company-wide email. The OP shouldn’t shy away from plainly saying that what he did was wrong, classist, and racist as she has been doing, but unless she is the manager of the team, it’s not on her to reply.

      1. Rocket*

        Agreed, it should have beeen management who sent out that response, not a random coworker.

        1. Loulou*

          Exactly. I would assume pretty bad things about the manager here, but not the rank and file.

    2. KaloraKid*

      I completely agree. If one of my employees sent an email like that, my very next call would be to my HR partner about next steps which would absolutely include a retraction and apology to the entire company. I’d also need to find a bucket of ice water to dunk my head in to keep me from absolutely losing my ish.

      1. Lime green Pacer*

        HR must have received the company-wide email, but there has been no action from them. :(

        1. KaloraKid*

          Mortifying all around.
          How was there not a single leader at this org that shut this down? My company isn’t perfect but Gaston would likely have been gone within the week and a correction/apology would have gone out, likely from the most senior person on the email.

        2. EPLawyer*

          Yep.

          I hate to say it but OP can work on “diversity and inclusion” all she wants. The fact that someone felt comfortable sending a racist email to the entire company and no one in a position of authority did anything tells you all you need to know about the company. OP is not racist. The rest of her team MAY not be racist but the company values as a whole don’t seem to care too much about racism.

          OP the reaction to this email tells you everything you need to know about the company. Time to start a soft job search.

          1. EPLawyer*

            This was all of HR’s response according to the letter:

            feel there must have been more emails or discussions I don’t know about, because a company-wide email went around from HR about how the drawing was blind and didn’t not take into account race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.

            They just defended the process. They didn’t do anything about the racism. Which means they were okay with it.

          2. eisa*

            Absolutely, that stood out to me as well.
            Gaston is beyond the pale and the manager is .. at the very least .. a coward.
            But a company-wide email ? How on earth did nobody higher up enact consequences upon Gaston ?

            The company has very clearly shown its colours and they are not pretty.

        3. lex talionis*

          Speaking of HR receiving the email, did the Janitor receive it too if it was company wide? How is he feeling right about now? I would hope HR would at least address this bullshit behavior by getting a bead on how the Janitor is feeling. And let’s be real, if someone sent a company wide email attacking or denigrating receptionists or customer service workers do you it would go unaddressed?

          Gaston is an asshole. Maybe you should print this out with all the comments and leave it on his desk. I doubt it will change his mind but maybe if he realizes a few hundred people think he sucks, maybe he will adjust his behavior.

          1. lex talionis*

            Oh and one more thing, this was a “Christmas “ contest? Suggest to HR maybe instead of excluding janitorial staff they should exclude assholes.

        4. Observer*

          HR must have received the company-wide email, but there has been no action from them. :(

          No public action.

          This could be one of those situations where something is being done, but no one is talking because of confidentiality concerns. I have mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, I do understand the confidentiality issue. On the other hand, I think that there is an obligation to all of the other staff (especially anyone who is part of a marginalized group!) to make it clear that this will NOT be tolerated because this would legitimately cause distress for staff.

          1. calonkat*

            When the offense is committed in writing, to all employees with email, the apology should be the same. We’re not talking about Janet sending an invitation to a Tupperware party to all staff, with grammatical errors yet, that can lead private discussions and such.

            A public and widespread offensive statement needs a public and widespread reaction. Even just an email stating “This company values all our employees and the variety of experience they bring. We are especially grateful to our janitorial staff who have labored so hard to keep our offices safe during the recent health crisis. All staff should be aware of the guidelines concerning behavior in the employee handbook.” would have gone a long way towards letting people know this was NOT ACCEPTABLE. Lacking that, the impression is that well, wink wink, you don’t say that out loud, but yeah, we get you and our company/team is ok with that.

            And apparently if it’s not illegal, it IS ok to do or say any old offensive thing there, so it’s the correct impression.

    3. What She Said*

      This is where the manager should have stepped up and commented on the email. The fact they remained silent will paint the entire team as agreeing with Gaston.

    4. Nonny Mouse*

      Exactly.

      I worked at a place once where someone sent out a companywide email like this– well, a little bit worse– while out of the office, and within the hour we were all treated to the sight of the CEO with a screwdriver kneeling in suit and nylons in the corridor as she changed the lock on the miscreant’s door.

      1. Observer*

        Well, we KNOW that the *manager* is perfectly ok with this. They pretty much said so. But that doesn’t mean that the rest of the department agrees. A lot of people keep their heads down because they can’t do anything about it, they think they can’t do anything about it, or their workplace sense have been warped by the dysfunction of their workplace / work history.

        It sounds to me like the OP is suffering from a bit of both.

    5. Ground Control*

      I wouldn’t consider it the *responsibility* of others on the team to send an email disagreeing with Gaston. However, if I was part of Gaston’s team and realized that there were no consequences to sending unhinged company-wide racist/classist messages I would 100% send my own company-wide email congratulating the janitor and disavowing everything Gaston said. Like you literally wouldn’t be able to stop me from replying to that. I can’t imagine tip-toeing around calling Gaston’s actions racist and classist in casual conversation with a coworker.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Love this. I was thinking about that reply to all button myself. If they can’t say anything to Gaston then they can’t say anything to me either. Screw it. Even if they could say something to me, it would be worth it.

        1. Bob-White of the Glen*

          I think one person replying that this is unacceptable would have led to an avalanche of similar replies. It’s just hard to be the first person. But how much trouble can someone get in for “This is gross and I could not disagree with you more.”?

          1. Ground Control*

            It can definitely be hard to be the first person to speak up! But I think of it as “do something hard” vs. “let the people being disparaged think that no one supports them” and it gets a lot easier.

      2. Elbe*

        Most companies absolutely do not want their company-wide emails to turn in to a flame war.

        And, the worst case scenario is that Gaston has a lot more supporters than any of us would want to believe. What if everyone emails their opinions… and it turns out that most people don’t think janitors “count”? That would be extremely hurtful for a lot of people involved.

        The best case scenario here is for only a top-level person to set expectations and shut everything else down. Ideally, the CEO would set the expectation that all employees are equal and anyone who disagreed with that personally would know to keep their opinions to themselves. You can’t make a Gaston into a better person, but you can set a top-down culture where respect is the norm and everyone is expected to fall in line. The execs really duffed this one.

      3. calonkat*

        Yes! It would be an interesting public relations disaster to fire or discipline someone for not being racist/classist enough.

    6. Smithy*

      I think it’s also worth considering that the majority of responsibility for how this was handled was both Gaston’s manager but then the larger company’s HR/management. And that does impact how other people feel about working there.

      So the person who talked to the OP and other managers may be doing their own compartmentalizing that their own department/manager/etc. is not like that but rather its a racist team who is. I do think that should the OP find themselves with that person again or in a similar situation at work, I’d feel free to have a stronger opinion to distance myself from Gaston. But I’d also see some of that reaction as being larger anger at the company for not doing more.

    7. Bagpuss*

      Yeah, I think a reply all’ at the time saying “Gaston, that’s gross and ridiculous, of course all staff should continue to be included, and I’m sure the draw was fair – congratulations [name of winner] hope you enjoy your new car”

      Which firmly distances *you* from his comments -if no-one from your department did anything like that then yeah, people are going to assume that you were OK with his comments.

    8. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I also think that OP’s department doesn’t exist on a different planet. People in other departments have met, interacted and worked with OP’s department. They have made their own opinions. And Gaston complained about it…people know.

    9. Observer*

      I think that this is very unfair. Obviously the manager is REALLY bad, but that doesn’t make everyone on the team responsible for Gaston’s or the manager’s behavior. Concluding that everyone on the team is OK with it because they didn’t respond to the email also makes no sense.

      In this case, we know that despite mishandling the situation with the coworker, the OP was most definitely NOT ok with this. People don’t go to their manager over behavior that they are OK with!

    10. Elbe*

      Different companies have different cultures around this. For good or ill, lots of places disagree/reprimand people in private.

      And in the case where public push-back is warranted (and I believe it was here) it needs to come from a top-level person. If the LW had chimed in to offer her support for the janitorial staff, more people just as easily could have replied to her saying that Gaston is allowed to have an opinion… and then the whole thing just blows up into an even worse, more hurtful problem. The CEO/Director/Manager needs to step in and shut it down so that there’s no further back-and-forth.

      I don’t think that the LW was required to publicly push back on this (and doing so very well could have been counter productive), and it seems weird to me that she’s being seen as complicit in Gaston’s behavior when she doesn’t have any control over him. My gut feeling is that there’s more going on here than just this one incident.

      1. GythaOgden*

        I think the reason you do this in private is because people get very upset at public shaming in other circumstances. Where in this situation might have been best to say something publicly, in many other cases we’d all be upset at publicly humiliating someone who didn’t deserve it.

        I do think your company needs to do something but the problem is handling it in a way that doesn’t make it any worse — particularly if there’s a backlash that ends up rebounding on the janitor and his family.

        1. Elbe*

          Yes, agreed. A lot of comments here seemed to expect the LW and her team to push back publicly, but there are so many reasons why that could backfire. The last thing anyone needs is a Twitter-like “discourse” with the janitor in the center. Stuff like that gets so messy so fast.

          The company handled this very poorly and, if this is a trend, it doesn’t doesn’t say great things about the culture there.

    11. Chilipepper Attitude*

      I agree with calonkat.
      And it seems clear that the rest of the company do think that, absent a retraction by your supervisor, your team does agree with Gaston.
      I also wonder if your supervisor has done things that make them seem racist? Like maybe this came up with other supervisors and yours declined to address it and other supervisors told their teams.
      I find it harder to believe that one person assumed you were all racists from that one email than I do that other things have occurred that made that person assume you were all racists.

    12. Yorick*

      So how many employees need to reply all to prove they’re not also racist? Is it just his immediate team? Anyone who works with him on a regular basis? Any white people who work for the company?

  11. Neurodivergentsaurus Rex*

    I’m absolutely disgusted by the manager’s lack of action here. Gaston and the manager are both giving OP’s team a bad name.

    1. Sleeve McQueen*

      This is a PR/Social Media nightmare waiting to happen. His reply went to everyone! It’s probably only a matter of time before it’s screenshotted on a listicle “26 entitled employees who are racist as hell” on Bored Panda. If your company isn’t doing more to shut this down for “being remotely decent human beings” reasons, maybe they will for “not being publically shamed and ended up with a bunch of one-star reviews on Google” ones

  12. Limdood*

    You can’t protect Gaston and hope to come out looking good. Period.

    If you don’t want to be lumped in with him, don’t stand with him or up for him.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      This. Being wishy-washy on this has the appearance of “I don’t totally disagree but am too chicken to say so” or “I disagree but won’t stand up for it”. Not cool.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        This. OP was willing to speak to the manager, but outside the department, closed ranks to protect Gaston and manager. Why?
        They are gliding through life with no repercussions and OP’s career is collateral damage.

    2. Nanani*

      Well said.
      You are in the pig sty downplaying the muck. People are going to assume you’re one of the pigs.

    3. GammaGirl1908*

      As many of us have seen over the past few years, there are a LOT of people who, when pressed, learn that their primary motivation is “I don’t want to make waves,” even in the face of truly egregious speech or behavior.

      That usually says that person’s personal comfort is more important to them than doing what is right, and, as others have noted, gives the offender and the audience the impression that the silent people agree. The offenders have no problem making waves, and their voices are the only ones that get heard.

      1. Aggresuko*

        Well, it depends on the workplace. Some places, anyone who chooses to champion those who are being picked on also end up being picked on and/or fired. If this place supports Gaston, I … dunno.

        1. All the words*

          Or just have one’s upward trajectory halted at the company. Because, *not a team player*, or *too confrontational* or something similar. Most people aren’t willing to take those risks. I speak from experience. And I’ll probably do it again, knowing this.

    4. PolarVortex*

      Agreed. Covertly or overtly, racism shouldn’t be ignored, downplayed, excused, or allowed.

      The moment you chose to downplay Gaston’s actions/motivations to your coworker was actually the moment I would (as your coworker) have assumed you were racist too, just a quiet one. If you had shown how not okay you were with what he did, I would assumed otherwise. If you don’t support racism, you need to adopt a zero tolerance and call it out. Protecting racists protects racism.

      Additionally, next time Gaston spends his free time being a racist, since your manager won’t do crap, it’s time to go above their head. To a Grandboss, to HR, to someone who can take action. Clearly your company is not okay with what Gaston did, and if your Manager is going to allow Gaston’s racism to thrive, then you need to do what you can to ensure Gaston and your Manager are accountable for those choices.

      As an addition as someone who is a part of a marginalized community: The majority of people often say they don’t support bigotry but they do little to take action against it. I appreciate and commend that you did try to go to your manager with this, that was the right first step. But as someone who it sounds like comes from the place of the majority, you need to use that privilege to protect and advocate for us. You are the one holding the power, so the more you exercise that power to protect even if it may be uncomfortable, the safer we will be. We are already at risk, we can’t take the same risks you can.

      You took a first step, now it’s time to start looking at what that second and third step look like.

      1. eisa*

        I agree with nearly all you say, except “Clearly your company is not okay with what Gaston did” .

        Clearly, the company IS okay with what Gaston did. Its only reaction was to dignify Gaston’s lunatic email with a response where they “defended” themselves against the “accusation” of foul play. Gaston is fine, Gaston is dandy, not even a slap on the wrist for Gaston !

    5. Emotional support capybara*

      This. When a teammate sends out a company-wide racist email and you’re “being careful to not call him a racist,” don’t complain when other employees assume you agree with him.

    6. Omnivalent*

      That ship has sailed.

      The OP had a chance to show that she thought Gaston’s email was awful, even without calling him a racist flat-out, and instead she minimized her way right into confirming her team’s bad reputation.

  13. not a doctor*

    “I was horrified and tried to explain of course I didn’t think that, though one of my coworkers was disappointed.”

    Not gonna lie, OP: while I certainly wouldn’t have assumed you shared Gaston’s views right off the bat, this also wouldn’t leave me with a great impression of you. If this does come up again, you need to find a professional way to distance yourself that doesn’t also implicitly legitimize Gaston’s… ahem… “disappointment.”

    On a totally different note, does anyone else find the car thing kind of weird? Why does it absolutely have to be a car? I don’t drive, so all I would be able to do is take the thing and then immediately turn around and resell it. Why not just give them the money?

    1. KRM*

      Worse, you wouldn’t get anything if you didn’t want to accept $$ for a car! They’d just draw a new name! It is weird.

      OP, for sure I wish you had said “Oh, yeah that email Gaston sent was terrible and I was upset that our management didn’t address it” or even “Ugh, that was the worst thing to read, it was awful”. Because the bottom line is that you don’t need to protect Gaston in any way. He’s clearly a racist/classist who has no issue making that known (ahem: company wide email), and you’re not obliged to him at all. I encourage you to take a stronger stand if anyone mentions it to you again, and for sure take some of Alison’s suggestions about trying to make your workplace more inclusive.

    2. Fluff*

      So much this.

      A racist company wide email by a currently employed person followed by nothing normalizes that behavior. While a response ideally should have come from leadership, individuals (especially white in power people) can speak up. Even a simple “Nope, complete disagree and I find that email racist” might have gone a long way to help that team’s reputation. In this case a response to everyone may have made so many people feel more comfortable. Gaston’s email was racist plus he also basically accused the company of lying. Yikes – does he even want to have a job?

      With silence following an email like that, I am going to start thinking people did not consider Gaston’s comments as “that bad.” Behavior is normalized by silence. Credit to you for writing in and trying to figure this out. I wonder is Gaston someone of authority?

    3. What She Said*

      It may be weird in your situation but in many others it wouldn’t be. Let’s just assume in their situation a car is a wonderful prize and move on. No one has to accept the car if they don’t want it.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Yep. This isn’t about a car drawing. I am baffled that people are concerned about the car when there is a much, much larger problem here.

        1. KRM*

          I mean, we’re all having BOTH conversations. You can be concerned about the racism and also about how bizarre the car drawing is. Plus, as many people have pointed out, it can be pretty classist/ablest to have a drawing for something not everyone could use, and then the solution to “Hey I don’t want a car because I can’t afford to park it where I live” is “Okay, we’ll draw another name”.

          1. anon for this one*

            I appreciate that both conversations are happening even though the racism is louder than the ableism here. I have an invisible disability that prevents me from driving. I don’t talk about this at work because American culture generally equates driving with maturity and independence, and I’m concerned that if this became public knowledge I’d be taken less seriously in my role. I’d be even more concerned about that at the LW’s company given what we know about it.

      2. anonymous73*

        That wasn’t my first thought but one I had. Winning something like a car can be a burden for some people. You have to pay taxes on it and some people can’t afford it. So it’s pretty messed up that they’re willing to part with money for a car, but not the actual money. And if you win and don’t want a car, oh sorry, nothing for you! It’s the least of the issues with this letter, but it is problematic.

        1. Rocket*

          “Oh sorry, nothing for you” is the usual response for someone who decides they don’t want to attend the company Christmas party, so I’m not sure why this is more egregious than that.

          1. New Jack Karyn*

            Because it excludes a subset of people, including many people with invisible disabilities.

    4. Attractive Nuisance*

      Yes. I think LW needs to take a hard look at how she thinks and talks about racism. It’s not normal for someone to be “disappointed” that a Latino person won a raffle, and it’s bizarre to me that LW could say that with a straight face. It sounds like LW works on a team where racism is very normalized, and I’m wondering if she’s picking up cues from her department about how to discuss racism in the office, not realizing how far from the norm it is.

    1. HugeTractsofLand*

      I so confused by this, too! Mayyyybe (being very charitable here) a lot of conversations were had behind closed doors, but a company-wide racist message requires a company-wide response that addresses the racism of the commenter/comment itself!

      1. Caliente*

        Unless of course the company and many people in it are racist. Which is NOT an unlikely or unusual occurrence.

        1. Loulou*

          Right, and given that the boss’s reaction was “it’s not illegal” this is a particularly safe assumption.

          1. Ray Gillette*

            “If it doesn’t involve white hoods and burning crosses, it’s not racist” type racism, yeah.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      Right? I have questions about your executives, too.

      (Well, no, I don’t, because the fact that they didn’t bounce him tells me enough.)

      1. KRM*

        This is true. I’d be looking for a new job simply because this whole situation shows me that the executives (in the very best interpretation of the situation) aren’t willing to call out anyone being classist and racist (to the whole company! Via company wide email! It boggles my mind!).

    3. What She Said*

      I was wondering this same thing. I would certainly be rethinking whether he was a good fit for my team after that. Meaning, he isn’t and he needs to go.

    4. Nanani*

      People with the power to do so don’t see the problem (at best) or agree with him (at worst). Mystery solved.

    5. Christina*

      Yep. I just saw this play out in my husband’s work life. Coworker sent out highly inappropriate screed to large email list berating another coworker – not with race or class or gender overtones (which would have been worse) but over a matter of style. Using Slack instead of sending an email – that sort of thing. They disappeared as if the KGB had visited – with the only evidence being an email from management about how such behavior was not reflective of the company’s values.

      Toxic people who can’t keep their mouths shut are a liability waiting to happen.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Right on.
        But at OP’s company everyone has just learned that they can send out email blasts on anything and it’s okay. I wouldn’t dare hit the reply to all button. We are a large group and there would be at least 100 emails saying “I don’t want these emails.” It’d crash the system. Jeepers.

    6. NYC Taxi*

      Seriously. At my company Gaston would have been fired immediately. I’m stunned about OP company’s lukewarm response to this. The only explanation I can remotely think of is that often custodial, food service and other “behind the scenes” workers are often contractors from big service providers, like Aramark is for cafeteria workers, so the janitor is not a company employee and the company doesn’t feel that this ghastly email reflects on the company, it has to do with the contracting company? I don’t know. I’m stunned anyone would begrudge a fellow employee winning a prize.

    7. Hiring Mgr*

      It could be because it was interpereted as not racist but more as ” are custodial staff eligible/are they employees/often these roles are contracted out etc..” Still really stupid and concerning, but if Gaston had no prior bad hitstory I can understand it

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        Not disagreeing at all, I am building on it to illustrate how the company is a total crap show:
        If the email were a single action, I agree.
        But this was in addition to his whining and ranting about it to coworkers. The company certainly can look at the sum total and know exactly what this guy is.
        I bet there are emails to individuals, too. And he either got satisfaction from their agreeing or did not get satisfaction, which inspired him to up his audience.

    8. Monkey Fracas Jr.*

      Upper management shares his views.

      In my experience, this is why racists keep their jobs. Perhaps that’s not the case here. But it doesn’t look good.

    9. Snarky*

      “ But our manager said Gaston wasn’t doing anything illegal and he was allow to express his opinions during lunch and non-work hours as long as it wasn’t against a protected group.”
      So presumably if Gaston emailed the CEO to say “Eff you, Ahole!” and CCd the whole company, the company wouldn’t respond as long as it was sent during lunch? CEOs aren’t a protected class right?

  14. Hotdog not dog*

    The janitorial team should probably “count” double. They work hard when it’s not a pandemic, and in my office they’ve stepped it up with all the extra sanitizing. Added to that, not one of them were able to work from home like so many others.

    1. Calibri Hater*

      Yes! Honestly our janitorial and maintenance staff (at a university) work harder than anyone else and they are the lowest paid ($11, disgusting). I cannot believe people still have these awful attitudes towards janitors in 2022.

      1. Becky*

        I’ve worked janitorial jobs before and it is hard work! Though I am actually surprised that this company has a janitor on staff instead of contracting out those services like most companies I see now.

  15. Murphy*

    I propose giving only janitors cars from now on.

    But seriously. Gaston’s email was bad enough but no response from your manager is so much worse.

  16. soontoberetired*

    ah, my place of employment might have fired this person for this. They made it very, very hard for people to send out company wide emails after someone used the all company list to send out a political rant. This was on top of some other abuses of the all company list. and this would have been seen as an abuse and dealt with appropriately. management dropped the ball here.

  17. ENFP in Texas*

    “Oh! you’re from that racist team that doesn’t think people of color can win things legitimately.”

    “Oh, you mean Gaston? No, he’s a jackass and he definitely doesn’t speak for the rest of us on the team. We were appalled by what he did.”

  18. Trawna*

    This situation lost me at the company giving a car away for Christmas with no available substitutes (cash; bicycle; transit pass; etc). In my world, that itself would be inappropriate.

    1. Anonymous Hippo*

      I don’t understand the idea of doing one big present to a single person is somehow a company wide reward. It’s like professional gaslighting.

      1. Loulou*

        Lol how is this gaslighting? Are they trying to convince all the people who lost the raffle that they also won a new car??

      2. BigHairNoHeart*

        Gaslighting? It’s not something I would do if I owned a business, but I can’t understand how holding a drawing for a large prize is gaslighting anyone?

      3. JB*

        Gaslighting isn’t that. Gaslighting would be more like telling someone they won the raffle, then denying the fact to the point the person wonders if they heard it right (which may be indicative of the raffle being rigged after the draw or an envious coworker). No one is denying the series of events, the janitor is still on record as winning and still have his prize. It’s Gaston’s unprofessional use of the work email system and the lacklustre response to it that’s the problem.

    2. Christina*

      Yeah. We can’t have a Christmas party due to Covid, but we will be sending home all employees with a gift card, giving them the Friday before the holiday off/ making a donation to a Covid focused charity/ sponsoring holiday dinner at the hospital for the on duty staff……that makes sense. We are going to raffle off a car is weird.

    3. Rav*

      It depends on so many factors, including if the compensation is good enough, and if there were other presents for all.

    4. The Face*

      Yeah, to make it a car only is bizarre. I hope you’d be able to sell the car if you didn’t/couldn’t use it.

  19. nnn*

    What’s astonishing to me is Gaston sees the janitor winning as coming across as a feel-good story! And then he proceeds to send out a company-wide email objecting to the fact that a feel-good story occurred, and calling for the draw to be changed so it is no longer possible for a comparable feel-good story to occur!

    It’s astonishing to me that these two opinions can co-exist! If he sees the janitor winning as Bad and Wrong, how does he even perceive that it could come across as a feel-good story??

    1. Becky*

      My guess is he sees it as a “pandering to woke-liberals” type of feel-good story, but he in his infinite superiority sees it for what it really is in. He doesn’t want a feel-good story, he wants someone “worthy” to win.

    2. Jora Malli*

      I think he means “feel good story” in the same way that a lot of people on the internet mean “virtue signaling.”

      There’s an assumption by a certain subset of the population that you can’t talk about the things you think are morally good and right unless you’re saying it because you want other people to congratulate you for it. So when Gaston says the janitor winning a car is a “feel good story,” he likely means that the company orchestrated his win on purpose, cheating the rightful winner of their prize, all so they could get public attention for giving a poor POC a free car. It’s like a nesting doll of gross assumptions. You start to understand one layer, and then there’s another one just below it.

  20. François Caron*

    “No one whines like Gaston!”
    “No one hates like Gaston!”

    Sorry! Couldn’t resist!

    1. Llellayena*

      Ha! I’ve had that song stuck in my head the entire time reading these comments and y’all just made me snort tea on my keyboard! Thanks!

    2. Off My Lawn, You Must Get*

      I literally came here looking for this. Thank you all for reaffirming my faith in bardic filk shaming.

      No one whines like Gaston, none o-pine like Gaston….

    3. Ash*

      No one’s a jerk like Gaston, no one’s a twerp like Gaston, no one’s an elitist little baby at work like Gaston!

    4. billytea*

      No one rides like Gaston!
      No one’s snide like Gaston!
      No one sends racist screeds company-wide like Gaston!

  21. JTP*

    “I was horrified and tried to explain of course I didn’t think that, though one of my coworkers was disappointed. (I was careful not to call Gaston a racist.) Still, the man I was speaking to clearly didn’t believe me.”

    Maybe the first sentence is the reason for the second sentence.

    1. Kramerica Industries*

      It stuck out to me that OP wants to organize people to speak up, not to denounce Gaston, but because there’s a chance that this is going to ruin next year’s draw. And now OP is writing in, not to ask how to deal with Gaston being a racist/classist, but on how to save her own reputation.

      OP, people read between the lines here. I really want to believe that you truly are horrified that your manager won’t do anything about this, but I can’t help but feel like you’re horrified to protect your own interests. Allison’s advice is solid that your language around denouncing what Gaston did needs to be stronger. And not because it could ruin the fun of next year, but because his views ARE WRONG.

      1. Emilia*

        I think it’s entirely fair that the OP is writing in to an advice columnist to figure out how to protect their own interests and reputation. The manager is refusing to take a stance, so OP doesn’t have much power. OP has to work with Gaston, so publicly denouncing Gaston may not be that simple.
        Presumably they have bills to pay and other reasons they like their job. Wanting a chance to win a car seems understandable too. Why should OP’s world be upended by a bigoted idiot?
        Not everybody is on a mission to save the world, or ready to quit out of social justice outrage. I doubt OP is going to be swayed by lectures on morality from anonymous commenters on the internet with no skin in the game.

        1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

          OP not having much power is a lie here. You don’t have to belong to the group someone is being a racist classist jerk to, to go to your management and say “NO, this was NOT okay, and I am formally complaining about what Gaston said.”

          They certainly have enough power to do that. They simply don’t want to make Gaston’s life, and their own, uncomfortable by doing so… or have anyone else make their life uncomfortable because of that decision.

          Attitudes like that are literally how all the destructive -isms get embedded in our structures and institutions.

          1. Kramerica Industries*

            Part of OP’s comment was that they were horrified by Gaston’s comments but it seemed like others didn’t believe her. I’m not reaming out OP on morality – I’m pointing out why the coworkers may not be finding OP’s comments against Gaston’s email to feel genuine. Both can be true – OP can be upset about the racist/classist comments and upset that it’s affecting her reputation. But part of how she is being perceived could be that she’s focusing on how it affects next year’s draw and avoiding directly calling him a racist, etc.

        2. Caliente*

          This is true but the comment give OP a chance to think about this. It’s good to have the chance to think about what you’re saying, what you’re concerned about vs what you “should” be concerned about, etc. OP doesn’t have to change their POV but it’s good to give them a chance. I personally have been helped in this way.

        3. moonstone*

          Sure, but like others have pointed out, it’s totally fair that people will base OP’s reputation on how she reacted to her racist coworker. If her reaction is neutral, then she will be seen as tolerant of racism. If she cares more about preserving a car raffle and keeping the peace with Gaston than standing up for someone who was wronged – she has every right to do that, but then you can’t blame people for thinking she is somewhat part of the racism problem at the company. You can’t have it both ways.

      2. BahHummingbird*

        THIS. OP only seems to care when it affects them. When the drawing might be taken away, when their reputation suffers.

    2. Omnivalent*

      Yeah, I’m wondering if maybe Gaston’s little outburst was not the first or only reason the OP’s team has a bad reputation. She sure went out of her way not to disprove it, though.

    3. All Het Up About It*

      “Maybe the first sentence is the reason for the second sentence.”

      Hard agree. OP – if you truly want to distance yourself from Gaston’s disgusting behavior you have to call it out not soften your language around it. Call Gaston a racist! Or at least respond with the appropriate amount of horror/disgust! “Oh I know exactly who you are referring to. Let me assure you myself and other team members were shocked by his response and his views do not reflect the rest of us.”

      But here is the other thing, by your manager’s reaction… maybe you ARE working for the racist department. Maybe you aren’t, but maybe Gaston AND your manager are and maybe you should work on an internal transfer just to no longer have to work with them?

  22. Dark Macadamia*

    I think it’s weird for someone to assume Gaston was speaking for the team or that you support him just because you’re on the same team as him. But, uh… saying an unhinged bigot was “disappointed” definitely makes you sound like you’re at least downplaying how awful his rant was if not fully agreeing with it. It’s okay to call a racist a racist and say you think racism is bad. It’s actually important and necessary to do that!

    1. irene adler*

      Thought it was weird as well. Unless… Gaston managed to weave in some “we” statements into that email he sent.

      I shudder to think he feels authorized to speak for his co-workers.

    2. LTR,FTP*

      Seriously. SO many white people seem to think that the only thing worse than racism is calling somebody a racist.

      1. Nanani*

        A lot of people seem to think “racist” is like, a character attribute on your permanent record as opposed to like, behaviors and interactions within a system.
        “That’s a racist thing to say” does not mean “you are A racist to be shunned” – mainly because it doesn’t work that way. At all.

        But I do think that’s where a lot of the reluctant to point out racism comes from. Misunderstandings by people who are only at risk of this imaginary scarlet letter and not at risk of yknow, actual racism.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Yep. I see comments elsewhere saying it’s managements responsibility to respond – and yes, but OP and the rest of the team should have demanded that. And absent a manager willing to respond, I think OP absolutely could have.

      2. Dark Macadamia*

        I don’t think it’s fair to blame LW and the rest of the team for the manager’s failure to respond – I can understand why LW as a random employee didn’t send out a reply-all to disagree with Gaston. The manager absolutely should’ve made some kind of “this attitude is not reflective of our team/company’s values” statement and Gaston should’ve had… literally ANY consequences at all???

        But the fact Gaston was allowed to rant like this (to the entire company! in writing!) makes it all the more baffling that LW doesn’t feel they can say “yeah that dude’s super unacceptable and I’m upset my manager didn’t do anything about it” in a private social conversation. There is apparently NO risk of consequences from HR/boss, and a great deal to gain since someone already thinks they’re on Gaston’s side! If you’re actually horrified and don’t want to be associated with him, why wouldn’t you just say that?

        1. calonkat*

          The fact is that someone on another team did identify her team as being racist based on that email and the lack of response from management, or individuals.

          So it may not be fair, but it’s clearly reality (much like the email in question).

    3. Heidi*

      Unless Gaston is the manager, no one should assume he’s speaking for everyone. But the fact is that he did this and didn’t get fired or see any negative consequences of his actions. That in itself can be a reflection of the company’s values.

  23. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

    Question for someone more knowledgeable on these things than me:

    I recall that an action doesn’t have to explicitly mention a protected class to be a violation, if it can be proven that the action disproportionately affects one class more than others. So, if most of the janitorial staff are not white, and most of the rest of the staff are white or white-presenting, would that potentially be enough to make Gaston’s asinine suggestion illegal if implemented?

    1. Up and Away*

      Sure looks that way to me. But NOOOO, our country isn’t subject to systemic racism!!

    2. Wintermute*

      Probably not, it would have to be litigated.

      Disparate impact is a really fraught area. Some courts have ruled WIDE discrepancies are perfectly okay (in some cases as much as 60% is just fine), and if there’s a non-discriminatory reason or a legitimate business case then it doesn’t apply at all. In theory there might be something if they were to bar certain staff but not others and it had a disparate impact, but they could point to plenty of legitimate distinctions if they wanted to as well.

    3. Lucy Skywalker*

      Even if we take the racism part out, there’s no way to argue that it wasn’t classist.

  24. Vox Experientia*

    if i was gaston’s boss the only way he’d keep his job is if he worked a year as a janitor and did a great job. well, that’s what i’d tell him. then i’d go ahead and fire him after the year.

  25. Unkempt Flatware*

    I’d seriously want out of this company if I got such an email and there wasn’t a swift public condemning of it from the higher-ups.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Yeah, I’d be looking for a new job too. Exit interview, “I am embarrassed to work for a place that condones racism/classism all under the guise of protecting free speech. I am embarrassed that my company does not understand that free speech is not “free”, rather it is loaded up with responsibility for thinking about what we are saying.”

  26. Delta Delta*

    Also, if this was a company-wide email, that means the janitor likely also got the email. Or if he doesn’t have a company email account (which would be weird, since he works there), someone most assuredly told him. How is the company protecting him?

    Also, this is such a weird prize.

  27. Ides of May*

    Oh. My. God.

    Why wasn’t Gaston’s email immediately followed by so many reply-all follow ups of “this is horrible and doesn’t reflect my values” that it crashed the mail?

    Why did OP defend him as “disappointed” (yes, OP didn’t say defended but that’s what it is)?

    Why didn’t Gaston get fired??

    What is the name of this company so I can never, never work there????

    1. NerdyKris*

      Most companies restrict who can send to everyone. It’s likely Gaston had the ability due to his position, while most people didn’t. This prevents the reply all hell situation. And most people with the ability to send to everyone would know that this is a “let the CEO handle it” situation and not something where they should contribute. We had a situation last year where someone accidentally replied all without realizing they had the ability. It was a random person in a department that needed the ability to send emergency “oh no the factory is on fire” emails.

      1. Ides of May*

        Gaston is the OP’s co-worker, they report to the same manager. So even if that’s true in this company (unlikely – look at the number of reply-all news stories still happening) – then it’s still likely that if Gaston had reply-all power, so did the OP. And their manager. And their CEO. None of whom seem to have used it…

        Honestly it’s all just so appalling. I can’t even.

        Something like this happened at my work (classism, no race involved) and I kicked up such a fuss that I lost a promotion due to the manager expressing concerns about my “maturity and professionalism” over it. However cooler non-jerk heads prevailed and I got promoted the next cycle. He got pushed out eventually and I’m still at this company 15 years and many promotions later.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I hope the janitor finds a better company to work for this year. A company where the bosses know what disrespect looks like and know how to respond when they see it.

    3. Anonymous Koala*

      Yes, if nothing else, couldn’t OP and some of her other non-racist team members have replied all to Gaston’s email with messages supporting the janitor and condemning Gaston? The fact that no one publicly came out against Gaston feels indicative of the overall company culture.
      OP, could you do more to support your company’s anti-racism and diversity pushes now? Or start them, if your company doesn’t have them?

    4. awesome3*

      This would be my question if we get an update. Even if the company was only 100 people, I would imagine a loooong and heated reply all session that ends up getting shut down. The kind of reply all chain people remember for the rest of their careers even if they weren’t involved at all.

  28. Certified Scorpion Trainer*

    your manager’s lack of action made all of your team look terrible to everyone else. i don’t know there’s much else you can do to salvage your team’s reputation other than really trying to drive home that Gaston’s [horrible] views are his and his alone.

  29. Abigail*

    The car giveaway was a bad idea from the start.

    Instead of a party, just divide up the money and give people a bonus.

    1. Colette*

      If it’s a large company, that’s essentially no prize. (If they’ve allocated $20,000 towards a car and they have $10,000 employee, most people aren’t going to notice that bonus.)

      1. Abigail*

        Yeah, but the car prize is bound to create hard feelings.

        If they have to do prizes in some way, then make it a grand prize and a few smaller prizes. Setting up a reward at a company where only one person reaps the reward is a pressure cooker for hurt feelings.

      2. Nanani*

        They could do something else like catered food (with options everyone can eat! though with this company I wouldn’t be surprised to see it play out like “free peperoni pizza!” and people who are vegetarian, lactose intolerant, gluten free and so on can ~just opt out~), time off that doesn’t come out of anyone’s PTO (like, early closing on the last day or something like that), or a lot of things that aren’t two dollars cash OR maybe a car.

    2. anonymous73*

      It would have been fine if they had the option to take the cash they were willing to put towards the car. Not everyone can afford to pay taxes on something like a car, but if you give them cash, they can just put aside the amount for taxes. Our local fire department had a raffle for a car at Christmas time last year and had to choose 3 people before someone accepted the car.

  30. Another Ashley*

    I would’ve immediately sent out a company wide email congratulating the winner. I would’ve gushed about how nice of a car he selected, how lucky he was for winning, and thanked him for his years of service with the company.

  31. Alice*

    I don’t mean to nitpick LW’s choice of language but I think it’s important here. Others already pointed out that the reaction, with the lukewarm “careful not to call Gaston a racist”, could have been why this other coworker didn’t seem to believe them. But also this stood out to me:

    “I was originally going to write in and ask you if there was a way I could organize people to speak up about how they thought the whole thing was fair because I was worried, with the big stink he was making, that next year the company would ditch the drawing.”

    It’s not really a good look if you’re more worried about losing the car raffle than about how this janitor is being treated. Are you absolutely sure you have only 1 Gaston in your team? Maybe more people share his ideas and you’re trying to minimise his words because you know if you express strong disagreement you’ll be in conflict with your team?

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      Yeah, the possibility that the company might not have this awful drawing in the future is far from the worst issue here.

    2. J.E.*

      I think LW might have meant they were careful not to call Gaston a racist because Gaston could have then demanded LW be fired for defamation of character. I’m guessing LW’s manager doesn’t want to risk being sued by Gaston for wrongful termination if they fired him, but that’s a cowardly way to handle the situation. Too many companies are scared of getting sued, but I say let Gaston make a stink. He’ll just come out looking worse.

      1. Cj*

        Based strictly on what Gaston said, sadly he might have case about being called a racist if it causes him to lose his job. He can be accused of classism, but not racism, by saying the Janitorial staff shouldn’t be included in the drawing.

        Don’t get me wrong, I think there’s a 99.9999% chance this had to do with this specific janitors ethnicity than with the fact that he is a janitor. And if all of the janitorial staff are people of color, it looks even worse for Gaston.

        But the classism itself is terrible, and I think you can say that you are disgusted by Gaston’s attitude and comments without calling him a racist.

  32. Justin*

    This is why Diversity work that only focuses on not breaking the law falls way short. And why jerks like this keep their jobs.

    OP, you’ve got an organization problem, unfortunately. Good luck.

  33. Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii*

    But our manager said Gaston wasn’t doing anything illegal and he was allow to express his opinions during lunch and non-work hours as long as it wasn’t against a protected group.

    So your manager is an enabler.

    1. Christina*

      So, as long as I am on my own time, I am free to express my opinions on a company wide email list? Today I think I’ll express my opinions on abortion. Tomorrow I think I’ll tackle vegetarianism. Friday is the day I tell you my opinions about my sister’s boyfriend.

      This isn’t a policy that will cause any problems.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Okay but I would fully subscribe to the Friday email. I want to know everyone’s drama.

        (I won’t seek drama but I won’t look away)

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Is he allowed to use company equipment and company email to express those views???

      I think I’d want to tell the manager- “So when I give a company-wide response to his email, you’re not going to fire or discipline me, right?”

      1. Insert Clever Name Here*

        Thiiiiis. Gaston may be entitled to his (gross) opinions, but he is NOT entitled to voice those opinions using company resources*.

        *I would also say he isn’t entitled to voice those opinions IN the workplace, but clearly this company is path of least resistance, so…

    3. Prefer my pets*

      That response would have made me assume the manager is also both classist and racist as well.

      Judging by the manager’s response, the comfort Gaston had in sendings an all employee email, the LW’s reluctance to even mildly condemn him to others, the LW being more concerned that protesting Gaston’s email would lead to the drawing being canceled than anything else….yeah, pretty sure the coworker was bang-on when they said this was the racist division.

    4. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      So, according to the manager, if it isn’t illegal, and you’re not on the clock, you can use company resources to say anything you want. You can call the CEO an asshole, you can disparage the company’s products, you can announce how much you hate lower paid staff….

      Companies generally have policies, and can make rules that if a company employee violates those policies then that employee may be terminated. If the manager’s statement is an accurate reflection of the company’s policy, then the company’s policy sucks. (We’ve already established that both Gaston and the manager suck.)

    5. Gregory S Capozzoli*

      But our manager said Gaston wasn’t doing anything illegal and he was allow to express his opinions during lunch and non-work hours as long as it wasn’t against a protected group.

      Cool so its ok if I just don’t show up for the next couple weeks without calling out or putting in pto or anything, and start saying that all managers who wear red shirts (or any other trait that OP’s manager has that ISN’T a protected class) are idiots then right?

  34. Avril Ludgateau*

    (I was careful not to call Gaston a racist.)

    Call me confrontational (I am) but I would have no qualms about protecting Gaston in this interaction. Call a spade a spade. If he didn’t want to be perceived as a racist (and/or classist) maybe he should’ve thought about the racist and classist origins of his words. Trying to downplay his bigoted, inappropriate, and childish indignation as “disappointment” makes it sound like you’re not as concerned about the nature of his outburst. Honestly, it would make me side-eye and distance myself from you, too.

    Because WTF. What he said and how he behaved was so far beyond out of line it is in a lower dimension where lines don’t even exist. Your whole team may not be racist, but you’re harboring and, further, apologizing for one. The fact he is still employed and has been excused by the uppers shows a profoundly dysfunctional organization, one where I would imagine racial minorities no longer feel safe.

    And frankly, on that note, I’m curious how this is legal; definitions are vague but hate speech and libel (i.e. unfounded accusations of fraud) are not protected, and the fact management has visibly done nothing would contribute to later accusations of hostile work environment on the basis of race (which is protected).

    1. Avril Ludgateau*

      Re-reading, the e-mail that Gaston sent seems to carefully mince words so that Gaston’s issue was with the winner’s job rather than race. Hm. I suppose class is not an EEOA protected status, unfortunately. It is still atrocious behavior, and the perception of racism along with management’s absolution could open them to liability, in the context of other such incidents.

      1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

        Seriously – perception matters. My dad held a professional license* before he retired, and he explained that he had to turn down certain requests because the appearance of a conflict of interest could cause him to lose his license**.

        *PLS – Professional Land Surveyor. Similar but not identical requirements to a PE (Professional Engineer)

        **My mom worked at our church. Because of this, Dad turned down an invitation to volunteer on at least one committee where his professional expertise would have been useful, and explicitly refused to have his company submit bids when the church needed some survey work done. (He did provide names of some colleagues at other companies for them to reach out to.)

      2. GythaOgden*

        In the UK I’ve had to do statutory diversity training. There is a long section on how to recognise indirect racism — where the comments, action or assumptions aren’t directly targeting a person’s protected characteristics, but have that effect anyway.

        As a facilities worker, I wrote a long essay during the pandemic as to why the disproportionate effect of having to come into the office hurt me as a neurological minority (I hesitate to say ‘neurodivergent’ because in reality I’m ‘neurodisabled’ and ‘divergent’ doesn’t really encapsulate the difficulties and stresses I’ve had as autistic) who was in a worse off position than people in the administration class. That was a little self-serving but if I could point to an issue with the demographics of who got to work from home and who was stuck with the cost of commuting and risk to their health, so be it. I’ve calmed down now about it and am at peace with the disparity for the sake of doing my job (autism brings with it some horrible overthinking; I am on the highest dose of my meds but it still penetrates my armour) but it still rankles a bit.

        TBH I can’t drive and I’d sell the car, but I don’t feel as excluded by that as others here. That said, in the public sector we don’t even have an office jolly, and I don’t really care or think it’s appropriate during Covid, so it’s all a hypothetical to me and I wouldn’t be surprised if I thought one thing in principle but did the other thing in practice. If I entered and won, maybe I’d consider putting in the extra effort and cost to learn. But I’m in a very odd financial position (husband’s death left me with both his nest egg and £120k in life insurance money) so I can’t judge what anything is worth to other people, only think about what I would do.

        Direct racism (etc) is pretty much the tip of the iceberg. I’d imagine indirect discrimination, like Gaston, like the management and like LW (I’m giving heavy benefit of the doubt here that she might have been caught off guard, but it doesn’t make it Not a Problem).

        Such a situation at my workplace with a long list of minority ethnic management (mainly South Asian GPs but also a large IT contingent) would be so utterly unthinkable. That’s not to say it hasn’t happened, but I suspect that any hint of a Gaston among us would be squashed like a bug.

        But just this whole mess really isn’t helped by LW covering for Gaston. Even the charitable reading is still pretty frustrating.

    2. Rusty Shackelford*

      I’ve called someone out for racism without actually using the word “racist” and it can actually be more effective. If you say “gee, Fergus, that sounds racist,” they’re going to deny it without even considering it. But if you say “Fergus, why did you think you needed to tell me the people in your story were from X country?” it forces him to come up with a reason, or admit/realize he doesn’t have one. (And in my case, the next time Fergus came to tell me a story, he said “I know you’re gonna think I’m racist, but…” so he got the gist even if I didn’t technically accuse him of anything at all.)

      1. quill*

        That works better on people who want your approval than it does on people who don’t, but yes.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          True. But it’s also useful when dealing with management who thinks it’s okay to say things like this, and probably thinks it’s bad to call someone racist.

  35. She of Many Hats*

    Dear LW, it’s time for you to do some reflection about your unconscious biases and prejudices. Your initial response was protective of racist and elitist actions. It would’ve been very easy to say “Yeah, that was a really racist/awful/wrong thing to email. It should’ve never happened.” I would also go to your manager and/or HR and discuss the perception that other departments see the whole team as racist and it may be time for the department to have to DEI training. Not doing anything will very probably affect working relations with other teams and the quality of people interested in joining the department.

  36. Managing to Get By*

    Has anyone reached out to the janitor to tell him the company values him and that the company-wide email does not reflect the company values? I feel so horrible for him.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if some in leadership agree with Gaston and that’s impacting why no action was taken.

  37. Junior Assistant Peon*

    I’m amazed the janitor was eligible to enter. Usually, they’re outside contractors so someone else can be the bad guy with lousy benefits and pay.

    1. Ides of May*

      I read an article a few years ago about how greatly social mobility had been impacted by outsourcing admin, janitorial and mail services to outside contractors. Very few “mailroom to CEO” stories anymore due to this.

      Props to the company for having a janitorial staff that’s included.

      Kinda negated by letting awful humans like Gaston and all his enablers doubt their value in company-wide emails though.

      1. NerdyKris*

        Oh yeah. I worked at a help desk where I was at pretty much the top, and the only way out was to get hired by a client, but since I was a team lead, that never happened. Just a dead end at $15 an hour.

      2. GythaOgden*

        I’m in the opposite camp, I’m afraid. We just changed hands to an Facilities management part of the health service, and there’s so much more support and relevant training available than when we worked as a dept in another organisation. I can also transfer across municipal boundaries and potentially move to another property nearer home, since I live a 90 minute commute away and find it exhausting. All of the corporate chatter I get now is actually relevant to me as a receptionist seeking to move upwards. The janitor might not become CEO of the office where they work, but they might well be able to move up to CEO of the FM company, as that’s probably more relevant to his job than the CEO of teapots.

        From the perspective of Facilities, it behoves me to ask you to check your privilege here! ISTM people are assuming FM has no career progression. After two years worried that teapot makers don’t take us seriously when we’re keeping their WFH hub open and the servers running, it annoys me that people in this thread are perpetuating the idea of janitorial work as low status.

        Just a note that I find this not as offensive as Gaston’s idiocy, but still rather patronising. We’re not the poor oppressed masses waiting for a white-collar saviour. We have lives and career progression as well and it feels odd to be treated like this by purported allies.

    2. hbc*

      I’m amazed that no one lost their minds when a lawyer (or lawyer-adjacent person) won it the first year. I guess I’ve spent time in more blue-collar environments, because I’ve seen drama when someone like that ends up with the best present in a White Elephant exchange with a $25 cap.

  38. CatCat*

    Am I the only one who is burning with curiosity to read Gaston’s e-mail message?

    I just can’t imagine sending something like that to anyone, let alone company-wide!

    1. Going Up!*

      No. I don’t need to read racist, classist crap and I can’t imagine it will do anything but make me angry.

    2. Tali*

      I’m sure there are plenty of places you can read similar opinions, including from our currently elected politicians and important community members.

    3. Tag Team Back Again*

      I would be interested in reading it too! Just as much as I am interested in reading all of the guano crazy stories sent into this site.

  39. Polecat*

    The problem here is that Gaston sent a terrible terrible terrible email to the entire company and he is still employed there. There’s not a chance in the world that this company isn’t a horrible place. If that happened in any of the companies I worked in, and these companies had their own dysfunctions for sure, he would have faced serious consequences up to being fired. But at a minimum suspended without pay. And another companywide email would have gone out saying that what he did was inappropriate and unacceptable.

    So really the big problem here is that your company is completely effed up.

    If anyone brings up this email to you again in terms of it being somebody from your team and reflecting on you, you should condemn it in strong terms while still being professional. It’s perfectly professional to say that you were shocked and appalled when you read his email and it doesn’t reflect your thinking in any way. The fact that you mitigated his offensive action by saying he was disappointed, unfortunately that has probably already reflected very poorly on you. The person you spoke with likely will be telling people that he talk to somebody else on that team and they try to make apologies for Gaston. That’s not great. Do you

  40. Petty Betty*

    It may be time to start considering scripts in case OP gets confronted and lumped in with Gaston again.

    “I was just as appalled by his email and wish management and HR had done something, anything, more visible/vocal about it. My complaints were brushed under the rug.” or something like it.

    Why even bother helping Gaston save any face within the company? He had no problem showing his whole rear in that company-wide email. He’s fully exposed his opinion on the matter. Let management and HR talk their way out of things. You protect you.

  41. P*

    OP, are you white? Be a better ally in the workplace and call out this behavior for what it is. Racist morons are a dime a dozen, but it’s “polite” people who don’t do the work that really piss me off.
    – Signed, a person of color.

  42. Dramatic Intent to Flounce*

    1) Don’t defend Gaston. It was classist, racist, and astonishingly bad judgment on his part. Defending him gives the impression, true or not, that you agree with him or at least don’t find it bad enough to merit professional consequences. I’m pretty sure you disagree on both fronts! These consequences are his to reap.

    2) You’ll best defend yourself, and other teammates, by demonstrating you think this was appalling on every level. Again, don’t defend Gaston. If people remark on it as though the entire team is a problem, say that you were likewise appalled by the email and show that you DON’T stand with this jerk.

    3) That said, as Allison points out your manager is clearly not doing THEIR job here. I would be concerned about that and whatever OTHER messed-up norms this team has because they won’t intervene even when things get SERIOUSLY inappropriate. Consider this a manager problem as well as a Gaston problem, and make your decisions accordingly.

  43. Emilia*

    Just to be completely clear – the janitor was not, for example, a subcontractor, yes? The janitorial department is just another department like the legal one? If so, presumably the company-wide email was read by the janitorial department. If so I think that should be a straight-up firing offense for Gaston, because it aimed to publicly humiliate an entire department and the winner of the raffle.
    If that were all, racism wouldn’t have to play into it, but the HR announcement later about race gender etc, sounds like Gaston escalated this argument in that direction. Once he made it clearer that this was about race… I think Gaston had to be publicly punished in some way to correct the image that company tolerates classism and racism.

    If the manager is refusing to discipline Gaston, maybe OP could convince him/her to send a company-wide message that the team is very grateful to the janitorial department and supports their inclusion in the raffle, etc. This would at least be a public rebuke of Gaston’s views.

    But if the manager isn’t even willing to do that… yes if it were me I would seriously consider a transfer or a new job. Sounds like OP’s manager would turn a blind eye if, for example, there was bullying in the team, so long as it was during the lunch break. I can’t believe such a manager is effective.

    1. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

      even if the janitors don’t have an email, or if they were not part of the email, they have most likely heard what happened. People talk around janitors and other service staff all the time. You would be surprised by what they hear.

      1. Emilia*

        Just saying that if the janitors were subcons (as they have been in all places I have worked) maybe I could see a bit more reason for Gaston saying the raffle should only be open to direct employees of the company. In my company, they do make a distinction of this type between contractors and salaried employees for raffles etc, and I don’t think it’s about class but about classification as ‘contractor’.
        But if so that’s what Gaston should have said in the email obviously, and my goodness leave race out of it!

        1. MsM*

          Even *if* Gaston somehow managed to compose a version of that email that didn’t either read as a racist/classist dogwhistle anyway or pure sour grapes, there’s still no reason for it to be a company-wide missive.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        This is true. My husband used to repair business machines and the conversations people would have because they forgot he was there– oh my god. He saw and heard way too much.

      3. GythaOgden*

        Facilities guys work with mobile phones to do job requests. I fear people are — in a rush to condemn Gaston’s outrageous comments — forgetting that facilities and maintenance are as connected as corporate staff. You bet we’d see it. I have had access to site email lists in the past for management of Facilities such as car parking and so…I’m not sure where this assumption comes from?

        Please stop thinking of us in that patronising manner. It’s not helping elevate the status of maintenance/facilities to a dignified position in itself.

        Gaston is a [unprintable] but it pains me to read people sticking up for FM in general to effectively use the same image of us that Gaston has. Which is kinda ironic.

    2. Liz T*

      Why do people always look for a loophole for the bad actors? The company treated the janitors as eligible–in the *highly unlikely* event these particular janitors were subcontractors, why would it make Gaston magically a GOOD PERSON to be mad that subcontractor janitors were deemed eligible?

  44. Fire Ferret*

    OP, so you wanted to send out a company wide email stating that you think it was fair because you were worried they may cancel the drawing next year, then you wanted to send out a company wide email because you were worried about people thinking you are racist. You seem to have some mixed up priorities. Where is your concern for the man who won and had to deal with this racist, classist backlash? Why do you only care about Gaston’s racism now that is may affect you? Maybe stop worrying about your chances of winning a car next year or your reputation and stand up to Gaston because it is the right thing to do.

  45. J.E.*

    Could LW move this up the chain of command? Their manager seems unwilling to do anything about it. Maybe talking to HR or the manager’s boss. Some managers turn a blind eye to this type of thing because they’re afraid of getting sued for wrongful termination so they let terrible behavior continue.

    1. Alice*

      Some managers also turn a blind eye because they agree. Honestly, after a company wide email, everyone already knows and had plenty of time to take action.

  46. The Lexus Lawyer*

    I’m honestly disappointed in OP for only being disappointed in Gaston and being careful not to call him a racist.

    1. Khatul Madame*

      I think the LW was more bothered by the classism, but neither did she call Gaston an arrogant classist a-hole.

  47. Bernice Clifton*

    Gaston shouldn’t have sent a company-wide email complaining no matter who won the prize imo, but considering who did win made it worse. And company leadership looks worse for not addressing it with him specifically as well not sending out another email saying that kind of stuff won’t be tolerated.

  48. Just Your Everyday Crone*

    I can sort of see where the person from the other team was coming from because the response to this was deeply and profoundly inadequate. LW’s manager said Gaston has a right to his opinion, rather than that Gaston was behaving inappropriately. The company seems to have only said the drawing was color-blind, rather than they would not tolerate the use of company platforms to denigrate people in our company based on their jobs, race and similar characteristics. (In my office, we’re not allowed to send around all-office emails without permission from a higher-up and at a seriously pathetic minimum, Gaston’s all-office emailing privileges should have been revoked). LW was careful not to say Gaston was a racist, when Gaston’s views are horrific. Everybody’s giving Gaston all kinds of benefit of the doubt while not at all thinking about the feelings of the janitor or any people of color or lower-paid people in the company, many of whom I am sure have been harmed by this.

  49. WellRed*

    I think the idea for a car giveaway is weird, especially with the attached conditions. Just give everyone a bonus.

  50. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

    There is so much going on in this letter.
    1. what was in the HR letter response after Gaston sent his? It doesn’t sound like anyone addressed the racism, just that the contest was fair and didn’t take into account race, gender, etc.
    2. What kind f holiday party are you having if it covers the cost of a car? Even my used 2014 Chevy Equinox was close to $18,000. And why couldn’t someone take the cash. What if they had a car they just bought, couldn’t they use that to go towards the loan?
    3. If you all are having holiday parties that are thousands of dollars why not just give everyone a small bonus or something. Even if it was $100 for every employee (not executives etc).
    4. How is Gaston still employed?
    5. What is wrong with the other coworer who just assumes that Gaston speaks for everyone on the team? Was there something that maybe the LW said (or didn’t say). That person seemed extremely rude and harsh.
    6. Has anyone found out how the Janitor feels now? If he doesn’t have company email he probably has heard whats been said. I don’t know if I could work in that place if I was in his shoes.
    7. WTF is wrong with your boss. I think the OP needs to bring the comment from the other department to the boss’s attention. Explain that because of Gaston others think we are all rasist and it is (or could have) implecations with working with others. Explain that you are worried about your work reputation.
    8. Tell Gaston that he should never talk for you or anyone else. If you haven’t already I would respond to his original email and send it to everyone. Say something like “I was hoping that leadership would take a bit more of a stand against what Gaston said. It’s come to my attention that others in the company may think that my team feels the same ways as Gaston. He does not speak for me and I am overjoyed that one of our essential workers was able to get this great prize from the company. I hope his family are enjoying it. ”
    9. Look for a new job. I think there are problems with your company. At least with your manager and HR. Especially because it sounds like no one in higher management sent out a message in regards to what he said.
    10. your boss said that Gaston didn’t do anything illegal and that it was on his own time. But as soon as he sent that company wide message it became a company problem. And people get fired or in trouble at work all the time because of stuff the did on their own time that was racist (the lady with the dog in central park who made it sound like the black man was harassing her, those folx who didn’t believe that a POC could live in their neighborhood and tried to call the police because he was drawing a black lives matter sign on his own property are a few that come to mind).
    11. If Gaston doesn’t think that the janitors count then he should have to work as one for a week to see how hard they work and how important they are.

    1. Myrin*

      You’ve covered pretty much everything I’ve been thinking. With the exception of the janitor himself, nobody in this story comes out looking good.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Echoing #9 especially. This company is going to normalize all sorts of things for you that aren’t okay – and that might already be happening if you weren’t comfortable denouncing this behavior. Get out.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      #5 Silence means acceptance. Since no one spoke up to say Gaston is full of it, then people can and do assume that everyone is in agreement.

      #12 (not listed) Where is the janitor’s higher ups? Why aren’t they jumping in here? What are they telling the janitor? I hope the janitor does not change how he views the car- I hope it does not turn into a big negative for him.

      1. Myrin*

        Re: #5, if I got an email like Gaston’s, I wouldn’t expect a reply-all from one, several, or all of his coworkers. If I thought about it at all (and I don’t think I would unless I had unrelated reasons to assume Gaston’s entire department is a hivemind), I would assume that he’d been called out privately by those closest to him. I do indeed reckon it’s strange to think that just because one person in [work group] said something egregious, everyone else in that group must surely share their views.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          Thing is, often they don’t get talked to privately. Plus, the racist outburst was very public, so at least part of the response should be as well. The HR response was far too wishy-washy. There should at least been some explicit wording that said that the company did not consider Gaston’s outburst appropriate.

          1. Myrin*

            Oh, I totally agree about the company needing to take a public stance – but my comment and the one I’m replying to talk about random coworkers.

    4. Dragon*

      Agree with #5. Coworker should not have said that to LW, or judged the whole team by Gaston’s behavior. Also, LW said this happened at a social event, so s/he was likely caught off guard by the comment.

  51. Kettle of Fish*

    I’d like to give props to the person from the other department who called the OP’s team out on the issue! Seems to me if it hadn’t been for that person speaking up, OP would not be getting the feedback she is getting today.

  52. wendelenn*

    Something’s bad with Gaston, Makes me mad at Gaston, he’s so classist it’s evil and sad, that Gaston. . .

    “When I was a lad I learned four dozen things that were racist and evil and mean,
    And now that I’m grown I know five dozen things and I’m simply the douchebag you’ve seen”

    “I am racist in all my pontificating!” Oh what a guy, that Gaston!

  53. Seeking Second Childhood*

    I’m appalled that HR’s reply did not include a statement that Gaston’s insinuations were completely inappropriate BEYOND the details of how the contest was structured.

  54. Mehitabel*

    I am absolutely stunned that Gaston wasn’t frogmarched out of the building the nanosecond that blast email hit everyone’s inboxes. STUNNED.

    1. Lita*

      I’m not. People say all sorts of disgusting things at work, in life, in politics, and face no consequences.

    2. anonymous73*

      Not me. We live in a world where certain types of people never face consequences.

  55. Brett*

    As a latino who has worked roles like being a janitor and now does not, I wanted to raise a few more questions for OP to consider of their company.

    What is the career ladder for a janitor?
    What professional development is available to janitors and how well can they make use of it? (e.g. if all the career development training is online but the janitors do not have their own take home laptop, how useful is that to them?)
    How likely is a janitor to move to higher grade position in the company outside the janitorial career ladder?

    And then ask… how many of our janitors are latino? How do the answers to the above questions change, in practice, for non-latino janitors?

    Try substituting in lower grade job roles other than janitor and see how those answers change too. A surprising amount of bias comes in when roles aligned with race, ethnicity, and gender have different outcomes from similar roles that are aligned with other races, ethnicities, and genders.

    To make this post even longer, I’ll tell a story that I have used with my own co-workers. We were all sitting in the cafeteria, back when we could sit in the cafeteria, and I asked them, “who is the most valuable person in this cafeteria right now?” And they did look around, trying to spot executives, etc.

    “Our cashier over there, Belle. When she is working the register, there is no line, ever. She is so fast, that no one ever waits in line even if she is the only one on register. Right now, she’s not on the register and handling a different duty. And look at the line. Even with two cashiers, there’s over 20 people in line. You know these people and what they probably make. It is over $50 an hourr each, and most of them are paid hourly and getting paid right now, and some of them make a lot more than $50 an hour. Every minute that the 20 of them are standing in line is at least $16 per minute. That’s $1000 per hour spent on people standing in line. And when Belle is running that register, that $1000/hr expenditure goes away.
    Right now, at this moment. The most valuable person in this cafeteria is Belle.”

    1. What She Said*

      All that math went over my head but I get your point. This story reminds me of being in elementary school. Back then kids wanted to help the janitor. When they asked for help many hands went up. Many wanted to help in cafeteria line and couldn’t wait to be in the upper grades so they could have cafeteria duty. Yet now as an adult some look down on this people . I just can’t wrap my head about that.

    2. eisa*

      That is a great story.

      I once read some article that evaluated certain jobs regarding their contribution / value for society.
      There were some with negative value (you’ll not be surprised to hear).
      The most valuable ?

      Cleaning staff in hospitals.

      Made total sense to me !

    3. GythaOgden*

      In Facilities here without take-home laptops, albeit in the UK: it’s perfectly acceptable to do statutory training during work hours. We get to clock off completely at the end of the day, although our supervisor, the Facilities admin, has a laptop to take home.

      Because the training is mandated by law, that’s part of our continued employment. My friend, a truck driver, did his on work time at the yard office.

      I presume the janitorial/Facilities staff makes their own arrangements for training purposes. It would be a mistake to assume Facilities, or indeed blue-collar workers like my friend, get no provision made for this kind of thing.

  56. Girasol*

    I just want to say thanks for this story that gives me a smile: the idea that the janitor, perhaps the lowest paid employee, should win a minivan for his family makes me happy. Gaston’s a pill but he only diminishes himself. Surely no one with any sense will assume that just because OP works near him that OP is similarly racist.

    1. Lana Kane*

      They will, when the OP’s response is “this person was disappointed”. At the very least, if not racist, complicit in racism.

  57. Interviewer*

    OP, it sounds like you’ve already been lumped in with Gaston, and your coworkers assume you’re all of the same mindset, despite your weak protests to the contrary. You asked if you should change departments, but likely the damage to your reputation is done, and a transfer might be much harder than you think. In fact, you might want to find a new job and get away from this horrible place entirely. The car drawing is not worth more than your career or professional reputation.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      “despite your weak protests to the contrary”

      Right. If OP’s reputation wasn’t damaged before, chances are it is now if that’s how they’re responding.

  58. NerdyKris*

    Aside from literally everything worse about the email, I can’t get past “Sent a company wide email complaining about the contest”. Just appalling judgement even if the complaint had merit, like if a VP could enter and won. That’s not something you send to the entire company, let alone adding a whole bunch of classism and racism into the mix.

    1. Nanani*

      Yes, the fact that Gaston thought this would be okay AND then went on to experience little to no consequences suggests Gaston is benefiting from a whooooole lot of ~let’s give him a chance~ and ~don’t ruin his career~ ism.

  59. Justin*

    It is okay to call Gaston a racist, too. But mostly, if Gaston is doing this to the whole listserv, the place is pretty rotten.

  60. Cataclysm*

    I think another option for a response would’ve been something along the lines of, “Oh, thank god you agree! I brought this up to my manager and he totally brushed me off!”
    This establishes:
    a) you’re on the same side
    b) you tried to do something about it

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Yep, because basically OP covered for the do-nothing manager also. It’s really important to learn not to cover for people.

  61. Lana Kane*

    “That said, you should use different language if this comes up in the future. Saying that Gaston was “disappointed” in the results of the drawing sounds like you’re downplaying or even excusing what he actually did. He wasn’t just disappointed; he decided to vocally be a classist and racist asshole. Don’t say he was disappointed; say you were disgusted by what he wrote and he doesn’t speak for the rest of you.”

    Hard agree. If you don’t want people thinking you are also racist, you CANNOT soften your language this way. It’s essentially code for “I don’t think it’s a huge deal” (at best). I can’t stress this enough.

    Gaston needs to be questioned further when he says something like this. Make him say why he thinks they don’t count.

    This is so common with janitorial staff, as well. We’ve seen letters here of how some people think this exact same way. They also tend to get automatically suspected or outright blamed when things go missing. These are the people who are 1) rightfully employed to 2) keep your workplace clean and safe. They deserve better than soft-pedaling when someone attacks them this way. That poor man.

    I expect the company will not do this raffle again.

    1. Lana Kane*

      I also want to add: that Gaston is being protected this way absolutely points to people prefering to avoid the “awkwardness” of calling him out, vs the dignity of a fellow employee. This is white privilege (or classist privilege, or male privilege, as many as apply here) in flagrant display. Is he being reported to HR? (not that HR shouldn’t have jumped on this immediately, ffs)

      1. irene adler*

        Per the OP: ” a company-wide email went around from HR about how the drawing was blind and didn’t not take into account race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.”

        So HR is aware of the email. And who wrote it.

        1. Lana Kane*

          Right – they did catch it and sent an email to protect themselves from Gaston’s accusations. But what are they doing about Gaston?

  62. Ann O'Nemity*

    I wonder why the OP was so careful not to call Gaston a racist. Worried about some sort of backlash from HR or the manager? Or…?

  63. Observer*

    Either this other person is an outlier or there is something SERIOUSLY wrong at your company as a whole.

    Alison has covered the issue with Gaston and your manager. But what is up with someone who decided that YOU must also be a racist, classist jerk because you work in a department with such a person?!

    I would say this, though. I agree with Alison that the language you used in response to this guy was way too soft. Don’t worry about implying that Gaston is racist, although I don’t think I’d get into it. I’m pretty sure that I would have responded with something like a major eye-roll and “Oh my gosh, NO! Please don’t lump together with that jerk! I don’t know what he was thinking to send out such an email, but I certainly want NOTHING to do with that!”

    And, by the way, he’s also probably sexist as all get out. Because otherwise he would have seen that last year a white presenting person got the prize, so it couldn’t be ONLY about a rigged “feel good story”. But for a misogynist creep, this prize would be the SECOND “rigged” prize that went to someone who “didn’t deserve” it and “probably got it because of their identity.”

    And I feel gross just typing that out.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      ” But what is up with someone who decided that YOU must also be a racist, classist jerk because you work in a department with such a person?!”

      This is what happens though. If we don’t speak up, people figure we are okay with it. I don’t get why OP seemed surprised, this has been going on for all of time. Of course people are going to assume OP, cohorts and OP’s boss are all good here. No one said they weren’t.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Right. At the very least “the department” as an entity is tolerating this – there was no rebuttal and the guy is still employed.

      2. Stardust*

        If we don’t speak up, people figure we are okay with it.

        I don’t think that applies to as a random peer not replying-all to your coworker’s racist email to your whole company. (Management/HR/owners are different, of course.) I don’t think there’s anything /wrong/ with doing it but i don’t view it as a moral failing to /not/ do it.

        I don’t get why OP seemed surprised

        Because people aren’t ususally presumed to have the same values as someone else just because they work in the same unit? I could understand that perception on the other guy’s side if he’d come to that conclusion AFTER OPs lackluster response to the topic of the racist email, but before that? For all that other guy knew OP had already ripped Gaston a new one and everyone in his department shunned him.

    2. Rolly*

      “But what is up with someone who decided that YOU must also be a racist, classist jerk because you work in a department with such a person?!”

      I might not assume the OP was very classist/racist themselves, but I’d assume they’re OK with racism and classism.

      1. Rocket*

        And after their dismissive “he was just disappointed” response, I’d feel pretty validated in that assumption.

    3. Elbe*

      ” But what is up with someone who decided that YOU must also be a racist, classist jerk because you work in a department with such a person?!”

      Agreed. There are very, very good reasons why a lower-level person should not publicly push back on Gaston. Specifically, it opens the doors for everyone to share their opinion and the situation very well could end up with more hurtful comments than just Gaston’s. Top-level people and HR should have responded to shut it down, but a response from the LW could have escalated the situation, even if her intentions were good.

      The comment from her coworker is very strange, but it could be that more is going on here than she realizes. If her manager hires and/or protects the Gastons of the world, there could be a reason (more than just one email) why her team has a bad reputation.

  64. Taylor*

    This situation really reminds me of the quote “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” I wonder why OP felt the need to clarify that they did not call Gaston a racist. He was being a racist, and your tacit endorsement of his behavior, as others have pointed out, probably led to your colleagues comment! It is just odd to me that you would take such umbrage to your colleague saying you work on a racist team when, well, one of your teammates did something racist! I think it’s a fair statement! Maybe it is time for some self-reflection and anti-racism work in the office, as Alison points out.

  65. Cringing 24/7*

    “Oh! you’re from that racist team that doesn’t think people of color can win things legitimately.” Sounds exactly like something I’d say in regards to this situation, and your given response wouldn’t really convince me otherwise either. Is it unfair to lump the whole team together based on the most vocal and visible person who’s a part of it? Possibly not. But the fact that your organization nor your department followed up with a public dressing down of that attitude implies that your organization and department don’t disagree.

    The fact that HR THEMSELVES basically responded by saying, “No, don’t worry, the drawing was fair.” Rather than swiftly correcting this unacceptable behavior shows that, to them, it’s actually quite acceptable.

    If you want to not be lumped in with this view of your department, you’re going to have to do as Alison says and not mince words. If you’re disgusted with that behavior, other people need to know that, or you risk being seen as one of the (apparently multiple) people who agree with this asshole.

  66. SJJ*

    Best thing you can do OP is apply peer pressure and to not defend the actions when it’s brought up. You could also proactively and commiserate with folks from other areas and teams : “did you see what so-and-so did? I’m so embarrassed for me and my team.”

    Side notes: I could understand being a little bit miffed if the janitorial dept was a contracted agency (making the janitorial staff not “employees”). But, regardless, don’t be a jerk.

    And why has no one dealt with this (either HR, executive management, or his direct Mgr chain)? It’s not like it was a secret or there was no proof? Blows my mind that no one has talked to them about this.

      1. Rolly*

        THIS.

        The only risk is perhaps also getting the person who made that comment in trouble.

      2. TransmascJourno*

        I actually disagree with this—there’s a good chance the whole thing would turn into HR focusing on punishing the employee who called out Gaston’s racism (albeit not in a great way), rather than addressing the Gaston’s actual, egregious and bigoted behavior. Even worse—it could embolden Gaston to do it again and again without fear of reprimand.

      3. Observer*

        Why? The OP didn’t escalate Gaston’s behavior to HR. Why would I escalate this more than the more egregious action?

        I realize that what you probably meant is that the OP should bring this to HR to complain that Gaston is giving the OP’s department a bad name. But I suspect that it’s going to be taken as a complaint about the guy, not about Gaston.

  67. T. Boone Pickens*

    I sympathize with you OP, I think you need to be firmer in your language going forward and other posters have provided some good templates. Gaston has cast a stink upon your department that is so fierce that I don’t think a silkwood shower is going to get it off.

  68. neeko*

    If you don’t want to call Gaston a racist, at least, point out that what Gaston said was racist. Do you have an HR dept? Because this and the manager’s lack of response seems like something to elevate.

  69. Off My Lawn, You Must Get*

    I’ll notice that the OP was “careful not to call” Gaston a racist. (Even though he was.)
    But their co-worker sure as heck wasn’t afraid to call their team racist. (Even though enabling/retaining Gaston certainly was.)

  70. Leenie*

    Gaston took what was probably one of the coolest things to ever happen to the janitor and his family, and he made it ugly. If I were the LW, I would have real problems even looking at Gaston after that, let alone working with him.

  71. Heffalump*

    Gaston, you’re missing a step. You forgot to question the janitor’s immigration status.

  72. anonymous73*

    I disagree with Alison’s assessment that the rest of the team won’t be judged (including you) based on one person’s racist reaction. And your response would have solidified it for me that you have the same thoughts and beliefs. I’m not sure it will come up again, but if it does, you need to be clear of your views with facts. “I can’t speak for my whole team, but I don’t share the racist opinions of my colleague.” Do not over explain and do not make excuses. Outside of that, the only thing you can do is what Alison suggested and work to improve equity nd inclusion within the company.

    1. anonymous73*

      And while this is the least egregious of it all, your company saying they’ll give X amount of money toward a car and only a car is bullshit. If they’re willing to part with X amount of money, they should allow the winner to take the money. Not everyone needs a car or can afford the maintenance of one.

  73. They Called Me....Skeletor*

    Just when I thought I had heard the lowest of the low in racist crap, now we have Gaston. I have no coherent comment to make except that Gaston should only be allowed to have a job that involves zero interaction with any other human being anywhere and he definitely should NOT be allowed access to an email account. I would say he has poor judgment but it seems he has no judgment at all.

    Perhaps HR needs a retraining session on hostile workplaces. I’d be filing a complaint with the EEO if the company didn’t handle this blatant racism better. I’d also be updating my resume if HR didn’t do anything. This is appalling.

  74. Pete*

    I don’t want a racist’s judgement to be anything less than “astonishingly terrible.” They’ve been emboldened, and now they’re irked.

    It’s really quite nice when they’re willing to stand-up for what they believe in so we know who they are.

  75. Jennifer Strange*

    Everyone has made great points already, but I just have to note:

    But our manager said Gaston wasn’t doing anything illegal and he was allow to express his opinions during lunch and non-work hours as long as it wasn’t against a protected group.

    Cool, so if Gaston’s opinion had been that the manager was a d***head the manager would have been fine with him expressing that? If the company-wide email had been him complaining about the executives being horrible people everyone would have shrugged it off? I have a feeling the response would have been much different.

  76. I'm Done*

    So Gaston sent out a company wide classist and potentially racist email and all of management and HR ignored it? I’m speechless. This company sounds horrible. Maybe OP can have a conversation with HR about the inappropriateness not only of the initial email but also the lack of response.

  77. Gabe D*

    Obviously this is not the main point of the letter (and without wanting to detract any focus from what a racist, classist a-hole Gaston is), but as a non-driver, I would be pretty annoyed (in actuality, furious) about the rules of this “contest.” Just because I choose not to participate in car culture, I would be excluded from an opportunity given to everyone else in the company? I would take that as a slight, for sure.

    I can’t think of any reasonable rationale for why a winner can’t be allowed to just take cash instead, except that I guess the company wants the smiling photo-op. But you could just take a smiling photo-op with one of those big fake checks instead!

    1. moonstone*

      Oh, the whole idea definitely sucks. Why implement a reward that only one person benefits from? The crazy thing is the company voted in favor of it. Makes me want to armchair psychoanalyze human nature..

  78. Curmudgeon in California*

    Holy Hannah, that’s awful! I would have probably gotten myself fired for publicly flaming Gaston for his racist, classist response.

    Seriously, what he did is not okay! Management should have shut him down just as publicly as his outburst was.

    Janitors work their butts off, are often poorly paid, and then they have arseholes like Gaston dumping on them on top of it. It was more than fair that the janitor, who was an employee, won the car.

    1. Aggresuko*

      I hope the winner doesn’t do so good of a job cleaning Gaston’s space after this.

  79. I Faught the Law*

    First, that janitor probably deserved that car more than anyone else at the company.
    Second, if OP is white, then they needed to use their privilege and speak out loudly and immediately against Gaston’s email; otherwise, they are complicit in his racism and deserve to be called out.

  80. RJ*

    I should be more shocked at Gaston’s action and the fact he wasn’t walked out of the office, but in thinking back to my own experience, I’ve seen this happen in different ways over the years. You have a choice, OP. You can be cynical and accept that Gaston’s email is the way some people think or you can use your voice to say something about it and state clearly that you (and presumably others) don’t support this.

    On a side note, I hope karma finds Gaston as it did a manager at a neighbor company many years back. Their CFO was notoriously against employing internal maintenance personnel. He found himself working late hours and suffered a heart attack. The woman who found him and saved his life was their night janitor.

  81. Iron Chef Boyardee*

    Not directly related to the topic at hand, but since it was mentioned in the reader’s letter, that gives me standing to comment on it.

    “The money was only going toward a car, you couldn’t ask for cash instead.”

    That sucks for anyone who doesn’t drive. At a regular Christmas party, non-drivers could enjoy the festivities just as much as those who drove. But because the drawing was taking place in lieu of the party, and the prize money could only be used toward the purchase of a car, non-drivers couldn’t even enjoy the thrill and excitement of hoping they’d be the lucky winner (“If you won and didn’t want the car, they would redraw.”).

    It’s like the situation where a letter writer couldn’t participate in their company’s weight loss reward cruise for medical reasons and wound up “having to come into an empty office with no work to do on the day my managers and coworkers took the boat cruise.” (“I don’t get to go on my office’s weight loss reward cruise,” AAM, 3/1/17)

    To make matters worse, you couldn’t even opt out, because “Everyone who was a full-time employee for two or more years and was not an executive or higher was automatically entered,” which meant a non-driver could win, but not be able to get the prize.

    I don’t drive, and if that happened to me, I’d be extremely demoralized.

    1. S*

      I think I would still be happy, since I could sell the car. We are in a good market for used cars. Of course, it would be kind of wasteful to give the employee a car and then require him/her to sell it and some value could be lost, but in today’s used car market you could still get a decent sum and then save or spend on whatever you want.

      I do wonder if the company would be legally required to give money in lieu of a car or an alternate equivalent-value price if the reason for not driving was being unable to due to a disability.

        1. Myrin*

          Wouldn’t they still have more money after that than they did before, though?
          (Serious question. I have no idea how any of this works in my own country, let alone the US.)

          1. quill*

            This gets into “I am not an accountant” territory but it REALLY depends on the car, where they are, and a few dozen other factors.

            1. RB*

              Wouldn’t it be something like: say you’re in a 30% marginal tax bracket, you win a car valued at $20K, it bumps your taxes up by $6K ($20K x .30), but you’re able to sell the car for $15K. Wouldn’t you still be $9K ahead?

                1. RB*

                  I am one, I’m just not a tax expert so I don’t know if it’s quite as straightforward as what I’ve described. But I don’t know why it wouldn’t be…

    2. RB*

      So we know the janitor in question has been there for at least two years, which might be pretty good for that job, depending on what they pay them.

    3. nnn*

      Now that I think about it, surely buying an employee a car (and a car of their choice!) is way more complicated than just giving the employee cash!

  82. Justme, The OG*

    Organizations would literally fall apart if not for facilities and janitorial staff. Gaston is a turd.

  83. S*

    Why wouldn’t the OP be careful not to say that Gaston was racist? He was incredibly racist and incredibly classist. If Gaston were her manager, I would assume maybe she was afraid of being fired if her comment made its way back to Gaston. But there isn’t anything indicating that Gaston has any power over the OP. Obviously, I don’t think managers should be immune from being called out as racist, but I understand that most people cannot afford to jeopardize their employment, and depending on the circumstances calling out one’s manager could be viewed as an employment risk. But it doesn’t appear that Gaston has power over the OP or anyone else, nor that anyone else even likes or respects Gaston.

  84. No More Office*

    This letter upsets me. My father was Janitorial adjacent (Maintenance) and it hurts to think that people may have seen him this way as well. How, as a society, have we come to view some of the most crucial jobs as somehow “less” than sitting in an office all day?

    1. Gerry Keay*

      The devaluation of labor helps line the pockets of capitalists. A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn gives a pretty rigorous overview of how we got here.

    2. JM in England*

      The main takeaway message from the film “Fight Club” is that if people stopped doing the so-called “low” jobs, society would grind to a halt!

  85. Calamity Janine*

    obligatory:

    nooooo ooooone
    pouts like Gaston
    no one shouts like Gaston
    no one emails racist rants to the corp like Gaston

    he’s particularly good at ruining my reeeeputaaaation,
    my what a jerk that Gastoooooon!

  86. Angry*

    As a white-collar worker married to a janitor, this makes me see red.

    Maintenance. workers. have. value.

    1. GreyjoyGardens*

      Not married to a janitor but I see red, too. A world without janitors would be a world taken over by stink and filth. Tell your spouse they are appreciated. (And I think that service workers, janitors, nurse’s aides and the like, ought to be paid and treated more fairly, but that’s another topic.)

  87. Gary Patterson's Cat*

    It is true that sometimes the janitorial staff are not actual company employees because they’re hired though a service.
    If that was in any way the case, I could see why Gaston may have had issue with them being included in the drawing (i.e. drawing should be company employee only thing – no temps or contractors included). But it does not sound like this was the case at all.

    Gaston is a real jerk. Expressing his opinion initially might’ve been one thing. I would’ve fired him for sending a company wide email like that. And your manager was wrong not to punish this behavior.

    1. moonstone*

      Doesn’t matter. If the powers that be chose to include them in a drawing, making a big stink about who/who shouldn’t be included just isn’t a good look, especially if the people included are lower paid employees (a different situation from if the executives were included.)

      For the record, I think the car lottery idea sucks in the first place, but it seems like the company implemented it in the best way possible.

  88. MG*

    While the LW says they are aghast at what Gaston did and said, they didn’t seem to do anything about it besides the private conversation with their manager. So, from my perspective, they’ve remained silent and thus are just as complicit.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      The manager should have done something if Gaston is their direct report. Instead, the manager said that Gaston can say whatever the hell he wants.

      I don’t think OP was going to get any kind of support if they campaigned against Gaston when management is apparently on Gaston’s side for this.

  89. Tag Team Back Again*

    Hi LW–

    I would see you as one of the team too. The fact that you went all the way around to excuse his behavior and label it as him being “disappointed” is quite gross. Every single word out of your mouth to excuse it is a point on you being on Team Racists, or at the very least, Team Okay With Racists.

    I hope this is a lesson to speak up. You don’t have to reply to his email to show you’re an ally, but at the very least you could have shown disgust, embarrassment, heck, disappointment when the other team brought it up to you.

    1. moonstone*

      Yep. Racism isn’t just about intent, it’s about impact. Even if the OP wouldn’t do what Gaston did, she enables the Gastons of the world, which is just as bad.

  90. LinzALittle*

    OP, why the F were you “careful not to call Gaston a racist?” HE IS ONE and, by not calling him what he is, you are complicit in his racism.

  91. moonstone*

    Don’t underestimate the importance of calling out people like this in the moment. For someone who went through the effort writing into this advice column to call out Gaston’s racist behavior, the OP – based on the details they shared about their own experiences in relation to all this – definitely underreacted. OP, why didn’t you call Gaston in response to his racist email? That alone would have been very effective IMO. People who are inclined to behave badly are enabled by people unwilling to directly reprimand them for their behavior. I understand that as an employee, you might have limited political capital, but if you knew there wouldn’t be negative repercussions you should have said something.

    It seems like OP is more concerned with their own image and reputation than pushing back on actual racists at their company.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      Given how the company has reacted, I suspect OP was not in a position to do good by calling Gaston out. I suspect negative repercussions may have been likely.

    2. carmensandiego*

      totally agree on calling someone like this out in the moment. it would have been way more impactful and important. this post broke my heart. i guess good on OP for recognizing the problem and bringing it to their manager but that was NOT enough and isn’t even worthy of the congratulations and validation OP wants. it’s really disheartening that OP really only felt the need to step up again when someone called them and their team out, when they thought how it would impact their own reputation. OP was complicit, completely.

  92. GreyjoyGardens*

    I have to say I feel really bad for that janitor. He and his family probably NEEDED that minivan, because I’m sure he’s not paid at the level of the desk-job employees. Dear Mr. Janitor – this was your and your family’s happy day and a big stroke of luck, and a bunch of racist, classist glassbowls tried to ruin it for you. Drive that minivan in pride and good health.

    Meanwhile, LW, Gaston, everyone at the company needs a “come to Jesus” talk about how their behavior is Not Acceptable. I don’t know if those “sensitivity workshops” actually accomplish anything, or backfire, or what, but at the very least, a stern lecture about workplace discrimination from a HR lawyer would be good. Not to mention a stern lecture from Miss Manners.

  93. DJ Abbott*

    Apologies for being late to this discussion and not having time to read all the comments, so I don’t know if this is already been said.
    It’s possible OP’s boss is not incompetent. It’s possible that he secretly agrees with Gaston. That would explain why he’s not doing anything.
    IME Racists keep quiet until they think they’re among like-minded people. If Gaston knows his manager and possibly others in the company support his views, that would explain his boldness.
    The only advice I have is for OP to try to determine exactly what’s going on and proceed from there.

    1. Observer*

      It’s possible OP’s boss is not incompetent. It’s possible that he secretly agrees with Gaston. That would explain why he’s not doing anything.

      In fact, I think that this is more likely than incompetence. Second place is incompetence + the shared bigotry. I think plain incompetence is the least likely scenario.

  94. Iain C*

    Am I had person because I starting making up lyrics?

    “Noone discriminates like Gaston…”

    (I have no serious thoughts beyond what Alison wrote, beyond not only disciplining Gastom, it should be somewhat public. Pour disencourager les autres)

  95. Batgirl*

    People kind of let the Gastons of the world steam ahead like a runaway train but I had an old colleague who modelled perfectly what to do. Someone sent out a “joke” about immigrants and he just bounced back straight away with “Because you’re sending this to us all in expected agreement, I just want to state for the record that I don’t agree with these kinds of jokes. I don’t think they’re harmless and I’d prefer not to be included as though I do, in future.” It was so understated, prepared and FAST. The response took barely a minute. It was also completely unobjectionable, but my goodness it was certainly enough to put her back in her box. She was not used to even a mild correction and very awkwardly walked it back and apologised. I was new to the company and what struck me is that he didn’t wait to see what management would do. He knew they were useless and felt he had the right to speak for himself. So simple, why does no one think of it?

    1. GythaOgden*

      That’s awesome. I’m white, but I’m marginalised: autistic, and not in the quirky Sheldon Cooper way but in a way that has made it difficult to have the sort of career that I want to have and that would be associated with my intellectual qualifications). It’s changed so much in the 20 years since I started understanding my neurological situation (all of that time after graduating from university). When my former boss said he had anxiety and he let me take generous paid sick leave for panic attacks arising from the initial lockdown here in the UK, I knew the organisation I work for had my back.

      No-one has ever been rude or offensive on any work emails that I’ve seen and it’s why I’m prepared to put up with dismal pay. I’m financially secure in other ways so I do have some insulation from the harsher realities of life, but that gives me all the more reason to put back into the systems that enabled me to get myself sorted out.

      I have no words to express how awful Gaston’s behaviour was and I think LW needs to take a long hard look at herself in the mirror. The world is in terrible shape and it will only get worse if we mince our words too much.

  96. George Pig*

    Sorry, OP, Alison may not feel this way, but a lot of people ARE going to think you are tolerant of racism if you are on a team with somebody they see as virulently racist. You should consistently combat this with anti-racist language and activity if you want to have some certainty of avoiding this reputation.

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