Investigating Racial Bias Complaints in the Age of ‘Cancel Culture’
May 24, 2021

Partner and Chair of CDF's Internal Investigations Practice GroupDaphne P. Bishop, recently authored the article Investigating Racial Bias Complaints in the Age of 'Cancel Culture' for the Los Angeles and San Francisco Daily Journal on May 18, 2021.

Excerpt from the article: 

For nearly a decade, there has been a groundswell of cultural and social movements seeking to rectify racial injustice, largely fueled by social media. The Black Lives Matter (“BLM”) movement started in 2013 after George Zimmerman, a self-proclaimed neighborhood watchman, was acquitted for killing Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Black teenager, in Florida. BLM gained broad support in 2020, after video of a Minnesota police officer killing an unarmed Black man named George Floyd became public. According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in June 2020, 67% of adults in the US expressed support for the BLM movement.

Increased awareness of societal racial injustices led to increased opposition to perceived racism and calls for accountability. “Canceling” was a term coined and popularized on social media as a public call for accountability, in the form of boycotting of individuals and/or entities for allegedly engaging in behaviors or expressing opinions in conflict with, or not supportive of, the cause of racial justice. These calls for accountability resulted in highly publicized firings – including of employees who were not previously public figures – in industries such as entertainment, sports, and finance. At the same time, a counter-movement against “cancelling” grew amid concerns that people were getting punished unfairly by what they referred to as a “cancel culture” for expressing unpopular opinions or for not supporting social movements such as BLM. Indeed, by September 2020, Pew Research Center found that overall support for BLM had decreased to 55%, suggesting there has been some backlash against the movement.

Concerns about “cancel culture” have spilled over into workplaces and can potentially derail employer responses to employee complaints about racial misconduct. As social awareness of issues impacting underrepresented groups has increased, some employees have felt empowered to voice concerns about discrimination and/or harassment at work. However, employers and investigators should be aware that increased attention to these issues has also created a culture of fear for some employees who feel afraid that saying the wrong thing will get them fired from their jobs. Employers and investigators must endeavor to find a balance between impartially investigating concerns raised by employees and treating employees who are accused of misconduct fairly, as discussed below. Here are some ways that employers and investigators can meet these challenges.

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As first appeared in the Los Angeles and San Francisco Daily Journal.

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