Hearing officer: Wasilla Wal-Mart worker suffered racial harassment

Posted: Thursday, October 04, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A state hearing officer has concluded that an employee of the Wasilla Wal-Mart suffered racial harassment on the job.

The employee, Donell Polk, was later fired. He contended his dismissal was in retaliation for his complaints about racial harassment as well as sexual harassment by female workers.

In a preliminary report dated Tuesday, hearing officer Larry Cohn wrote that the firing was not retaliation, but occurred because Wal-Mart believed Polk had threatened a co-worker.

Polk, who is black, complained to the Alaska State Commission For Human Rights in 1998, soon after he lost his job on the loading dock. Staff members found evidence of racial harassment as well as retaliation, and the case was forwarded to the hearing officer.

Cohn found that Wal-Mart managers didn't know of the racial harassment, but concluded that they should have known because it was so pervasive. For example, a white co-worker made comments to Polk such as ''smile and show your teeth'' to illuminate the dark trucks where they worked, according to witnesses at the hearing.

Wal-Mart should have had a system to discover and address such harassment, the report says.

A spokesman in the company's Arkansas headquarters said Wal-Mart already has a strict policy against discrimination and has few complaints about harassment among the retailer's one million U.S. employees.

The report is a preliminary recommendation to the commission. Both sides have 15 days to challenge it. A three-member commission panel ultimately will rule on the matter.

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