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Surfside Beach Fire Chief Quits, Citing Hostile Work Environment

In June 2021, Prentice Williams, the former fire chief of Surfside Beach, South Carolina, retired due to an alleged hostile work environment. News outlets only broke the story in mid-July, but as of this writing, no steps appear to have been taken to address the perceived faults in Surfside Beach’s workplace culture. Williams stated that he believed his skin color was an issue that played into the alleged hostility, and if he decides to pursue a complaint on such grounds, the fallout could be very serious for the city if they are held to have been in the wrong.

An experienced attorney may be helpful in determining whether you have a case of race-based discrimination. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

Race Cannot Be Used to Discriminate

Of all the protected characteristics under state and federal antidiscrimination law, race is seen as perhaps the most sacred. While exceptions exist with most protected characteristics, meaning that there are situations in which traits like age or gender can be used to discriminate, this is not true of race. Any situation in which it can be proven that discrimination based on race occurred will at least place the perpetrator on the road to civil liability.

Race-based discrimination is illegal in the workplace at any point, from hiring to job assignments to termination. This is true not only for generalized discrimination, but also for discrimination based on the characteristics associated with certain races (for example, hair texture or perceived facial features). Quite often, this type of discrimination manifests in subtle comments and behind-the-scenes actions, which allegedly happened in the case of Mr. Williams as well.

What Creates A Hostile Work Environment?

Mr. Williams cited several examples of his subordinates and colleagues acting in ways that led to the creation of the hostile work environment – namely, the administration placing him on leave after someone made false accusations against him, without allowing him to defend himself. It is plausible that this type of behavior gave rise to a hostile work environment, and if he were to establish that the treatment prevented him from performing his job in the manner expected, he might conceivably have a case.

It is important to remember that mere jokes or pranks, while they may be unwelcome, do not necessarily rise to the level of creating a hostile work environment. If an isolated incident is particularly heinous, it may be enough, but it is always a good idea to document the treatment you have received from your co-workers or superiors (as Mr. Williams has evidently done). Harassment does not have to come from a superior to constitute grounds for a complaint. 

Get Legal Help Today

While it remains to be seen if any legal action will come out of Mr. Williams’ allegations, it is a good idea to be aware of what exactly constitutes a hostile work environment. If you are ever so unfortunate as to experience that kind of situation, you may be better prepared. Attorney A. Christopher Potts has years of experience in this type of case, and if you have questions about race based discrimination, a South Carolina employment discrimination attorney from Hitchcock & Potts can be your first step toward getting them answered. Contact our offices today to schedule a consultation.

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