On the surface the Wolfgang Puck Catering employee lawsuit seems like a rather ordinary racial discrimination claim from two black employees whose termination was allegedly racially motivated, rather than performance justified. But what makes this particular claim different and unsettling is the evidence that's been offered to support the claim that the operation's only two black employees were treated differently from the caucasian team members.
It is alleged in this lawsuit that two employees in this Wolfgang Puck's operation drink alcohol while on the clock, and that at least one brings liquor to the workplace. Allegedly one employee chews tobacco while serving customers, and another employee has stolen money from the cash register more than once.
The lawsuit also claims that one employee used a racial slur against fellow Mexican American employees and that a member of the management staff responded to the racial slur with laughter. It is alleged that the management team at Wolfgang Puck's Catering are aware of all of these employee behaviors, and that there have been few or no consequences to the employees, all of whom are caucasian.
What the Puck Kind of Workplace Is This?
Of course there is a chance that none of this is true or that it is greatly exaggerated. But if, in fact, it is true, this is the textbook example of a workplace culture of miscreants run amok. Thirteen million people are unemployed and these are the kind of employees who are deemed worthy of collecting a regular paycheck?
These are hardly the "bright, energetic, hospitable, talented people who share [Wolfgang Puck's] passion for creative food and artful hospitality" that are described in the career opportunities section of the Wolfgang Puck website. Certainly each individual employee is responsible for his/her on-the-clock choices and actions. But the perpetuation of less than desirable employee behaviors, and the overall workplace culture of disrespect, defiance, and disengagement is completely the responsibility of the management team.
Like attracts like. There is no workplace that can escape this law of metaphysics. So if there is disrespect, defiance, and disengagement on the front lines, there is almost always disrespect, defiance, or disengagement somewhere in the management ranks as well.
A highly engaged, respectful, compliant leader generally does not hire or retain employees who demonstrate disruptive or destructive behavior. The exception would be the leaders who avoid conflict and confrontation at all costs. And of course leaders who can't establish and maintain authority shouldn't be in leadership roles at all, no matter how engaged, respectful, and compliant they are.
Although it's impossible to believe that any food service operation in the world would consciously design the kind of workplace culture described in this Wolfgang Puck Catering racial discrimination lawsuit, it's easy to believe that such a culture exists in more than one food service operation in the world.
There is culture by design and there is culture by default, but rest assured that every workplace with more than one employee in it has a culture. If the management team is not carefully and constantly crafting the workplace atmosphere, then the workplace atmosphere is defining itself without deliberate guidance, led only by the individual employees with the strongest wills and personalities. In other words, the most dominant inmates start running the asylum.
Only Wolfgang Puck Catering employees in Dallas know what the real truth is about their workplace and their co-workers. But the Wolfgang Puck racial discrimination suit can serve as a positive cautionary tale for retail industry managers everywhere. It's important to realize that there will always be some kind of undesirable consequences that result from an undesirable workplace culture. But before those undesirable consequences are being adjudicated in a court of law, it would be a good idea for managers to ask themselves one important question.
If my employees were called to the witness stand today, what would be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth that they would tell about their experience in this workplace?
If you don't like what the answer to that question would be, you can either start creating a culture that you like today, or risk having to defend a culture that nobody likes in the future.More About Retail Management and Employee Engagement:
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