Falsely Accused of Making A Racial Comment

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about discriminatory gossip: She said that I have been telling everyone that I would kick her ‘Black Ass’ out of that office and make it my own. I am of Asian decent and have been subjected to racism in the past so I have never wished this on other people.

I work as a supervisor at an office and an employee who answers our phones will be relocated to another office and they are going to give me that office. I have shared this plan of mine with other people and eventually made it’s way to the person concerned. I was called by my superior claiming that the employee came to her very upset. She said that I have been telling everyone that I would kick her ‘Black Ass’ out of that office and make it my own.

I am of Asian decent and have been subjected to racism in the past so I have never wished this on other people. I understand that it was unprofessional of me to discuss my plans prematurely with other people but it was not my intention to hurt anyone. We have a meeting with the person concerned in a few days and was wondering what my options were in defending myself against this false accusation of using racial slurs. I am the only male employee in an office full of women so I am very careful of how I speak and act. This person claims she has 4 witnesses to back her up. I am a quiet person who only speaks if I need to, I have a very healthy friendship with everyone. Any advice you can give me will be very much appreciated.

Signed, Worried And Not Guilty

Dear Worried And Not Guilty:

This is unfortunate all the way around and a lesson you likely will never forget. It’s a tough lesson though and I can understand your feelings now. I’m going to assume that the situation happened exactly as you said and that you did not make the remark you are accused of making. There are several possible scenarios for what happened and it will be helpful to consider those.*Perhaps someone told someone else what you said and might have made the comment (especially if they don’t like the secretary), “Did you hear what Lee’s doing?¬† He’s finally going to kick Vivian’s black ass out of her office and he’s going to take the office for himself.” That doesn’t quote YOU, but it could sound that way.

That person tells someone else and someone else and gets back to Vivian. It’s the old “gossip game” from when we were kids.

*You might have used a term like “fat ass” or “big ass” or just “ass”, and that was elaborated on by others. If you did, it’s better to be honest and show your openness to apologizing while still emphasizing that it wasn’t racial in tone.Someone you talked to or someone they told about it, dislikes you enough to lie just to make you look bad.*Someone you talked to or someone they told about it added the “black ass” part to make it sound dramatic but they didn’t intend to get you in trouble.

*Vivian added that part when she complained, knowing it wasn’t true but figuring it would stop the move. Or, she interpreted your actions as being about race, so she said what she thought you meant.What concerns me is that you are meeting with Vivian, but you don’t say anything about an investigation being conducted by HR or by your manager. It could be that this meeting is just the first step for them in conducting an investigation, but you wrote about it as though it is a time to present your defense.

I hope you will view it more as a time to assure Vivian you did not say any such thing and that an investigation is going to be done so she can be certain about it. If there had been no talk about an investigation that will be a good thing for you to suggest. You will probably need to talk to your manager in advance of the meeting so he/she is not surprised by your suggestion.You know your work environment best, but it seems to me that you and your manager as well as Vivian, need to find out the truth. Otherwise she will always believe you said it and your manager might not be completely sure either. From a liability perspective for the company, there needs to be documentation that at least some effort was made to find out the truth.

It would also seem that you need your name cleared, not just having the the situation resolved by talking about it–although that is obviously something that is needed.Even if Vivian says, “I don’t need to know more, I accept your apology for any misunderstandings” that still doesn’t clear your name or prevent a problem down the line. Further, it is tacit agreement that you did something wrong.Let me also warn about another thing that might come up at the meeting or afterwards: Don’t resolve this by letting her stay in her office.

Those are two completely different situations and should not be mixed. That would be a terrible precedent to set. You can assure her that she is not being retaliated against because the move was going to happen anyway (that’s what this is all about). Further, work location is a management decision. If it will work better to have you in the office and work will not suffer by moving Vivian, that’s all that needs to be said. Those are tough decisions I know–and Vivian may be unhappy for a long time–but time will calm things down.

But, back to the meeting and an investigation of the accusation against you. You could bring up the need to investigate by telling Vivian and your manager that you are so concerned about what she was told and how it made both of you feel that you want the matter investigated thoroughly. You not only want your name cleared, you want her to have peace of mind about knowing for sure that she has not been the subject of such hurtful comments. You could also add that it’s important to know why such a comment would even be alleged and that is a matter of concern.The investigation would consist of making a list of the people you talked to about the move: Who they were, where did the conversation take place, what was said. It would also require a list of the four people Vivian says told her of your statements.

By saying you need the names for an investigation there is less resistance than angrily saying, “Tell me who told you I said that!”When those people are interviewed they would be asked what they heard, who told them, whether or not they directly heard you say “black ass” or anything else with the word “black” in it, or made reference to Vivian’s race. They might also be asked who they told about it, as a way to add other people to verify that racial statement wasn’t mentioned, or when it first started being quoted.This doesn’t have to be a major investigation, just ten minute interviews with maybe a dozen people, unless you talked to many more than that.

At the conclusion of all of the interviews, including a statement from you and Vivian, your manager and HR or others, will either find out that no one heard you say anything racial and/or that no one told Vivian you had said anything racial, or that one or more people are still willing to lie directly and say that you made the racial statement. That usually doesn’t happen unless someone really has it in for someone else. One person, maybe, but not four.When this is all over and things have calmed down a bit, I hope you will be able to start doing more than talking only when you need to. When someone is so introverted they seem to be in an insulated world, others can feel that the person doesn’t care about them, is aloof or disinterested, doesn’t like them or doesn’t approve of them. None of those are good reputations to have.

Fortunately you don’t have to go to the other extreme of being loud mouthed, always joking, and rarely listening closely. That causes just as many problems as the reverse. Just be moderate in your efforts to have a good channel of communication between you and everyone in the office.The more that people think of you as caring about them and being a caring person in general, the less likely they will be to believe that you would make a mean-spirited or racial remark. That would help in this case. And, it may be that you’ll find you have a lot of support already. Best wishes to you as you work through this. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.