In Grzych v. American Reclamation Corp., a rare case of associational discrimination, a Caucasian complainant prevailed on claims that his former employer, American Reclamation Corp., and its president, Vincent Iuliano, discriminated against him on the basis of race and color based on his interracial relationship with his fiancée, a black woman of Jamaican national origin, and retaliated against him for objecting to the harassment he experienced.

Complainant Eric Grzych lived with his fiancée and their nine-month-old son and worked as a truck driver for American Reclamation, transporting contaminated soil from clients’ properties to American’s facility for processing. On a daily basis, Grzych returned to American’s office to weigh his truckload. Whenever Grzych was in the office, Iuliano greeted him with racial slurs and epithets which referred to Grzych’s relationship with his fiancée.

In January 2008, Grzych filed a charge of discrimination against American and Iuliano at the MCAD. At the public hearing, Grzych testified that he had endured offensive comments from Iuliano on a constant basis and offered testimony from coworkers who claimed that Grzych’s engagement to a black woman was common knowledge in the workplace. Grzych also testified that on January 10, 2008, after enduring yet another racist comment, he told Iuliano that he had had enough and that he would report Iuliano for workplace harassment if the discriminatory comments continued. According to Grzych, he was terminated the next day.

Analyzing the claims, the Hearing Officer concluded that Grzych was a member of a protected class and had standing to sue his employer by virtue of his association with his Jamaican fiancée. The Hearing Officer further concluded that Gryzch had proven his prima facie case of racial harassment and that Iuliano’s speech and conduct were sufficiently severe and pervasive to alter the terms and conditions of Grzych’s employment. Because Iuliano did not dispute the alleged incidents of harassment, the Hearing Officer concluded that both American and Iuliano, as American’s president, were jointly and severally liable for race and color discrimination. The Hearing Officer dismissed Grzych’s retaliation claim, however, not finding credible his testimony regarding his alleged termination and concluding that he had resigned from the company.

The Commission awarded $50,000 to Grzych for emotional distress and ordered American to pay a $10,000 civil penalty to the Commonwealth. The MCAD rarely hears cases of associational discrimination, and this appears to have been the first case of its kind in the employment arena.

Employers should be aware that the Commission recognizes associational discrimination claims and that employees may have standing to bring such claims as a result of their relationships with people outside the office. Employers should continue to train and educate their managers and employees that discriminatory comments are not to be condoned in the workplace, even if those comments are directed at someone who is associated with an employee, rather than at the employee himself or herself.