Today, AT&T fired its President for sending racist texts on his cell phone.  The firing — and 100 million dollar lawsuit against AT&T by the alleged victim — highlight the need for companies to stay ahead of potential race claims.

According to the news outlet that broke the story:

“[The plaintiff] claims AT&T President Aaron Slator’s former assistant was transferring data from his old cellphone to a new one when she came across a text to one of Slator’s friends that allegedly had a picture of an African child with the caption, “It’s Friday N****s.” Slator allegedly sent it to a friend with the message, “Oldie but goodie.”

King, who is African American, claims in her lawsuit AT&T knew about the incident but never reprimanded Slator. King also says Slator went on a harassment campaign against her because she was close to the person who discovered the text.

King also claims the culture of the entire company held her back for decades, and she was repeatedly passed over for promotions in favor of less qualified non-African Americans.

She’s suing for $100 million, claiming racial discrimination.”

AT&T issued the following statement today:

“Aaron Slater has been terminated. There is no place for demeaning behavior within AT&T and we regret the action was not taken earlier.”

AT&T President Fired Racial Texts

AT&T President of Content and Advertising Sales Aaron Slator (Photo by Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images for Variety)

AT&T’s conduct will be closely scrutinized in this case:

  • Did it promptly investigate when it learned of the texts?
  • Did it promptly deal with the alleged victim’s complaints or allow the alleged discrimination to continue?
  • What are AT&T’s policies on race discrimination and does AT&T abide by these policies?

Jokes are funny until they are not.  If you have an employee like Aaron Slater  — someone who is sending offensive texts or emails, or making offensive comments around the water cooler —  act quickly to stop him.  As AT&T will confirm, racial jokes in the workplace are no laughing matter.

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