December 5, 2016
Doctor Suspended for Comparing Michelle Obama to a Monkey: You Do Know This is Not OK, Don't You? 
I'm sad to have to report this in 2016, but racial slurs are still all too common, including a recent one where a Denver doctor, Michelle Herren, posted on Facebook that Michelle Obama had a "Monkey face and poor ebonic English!!! There! I feel better and am still not racist!! Just calling it like I see it."
Her remarks follow on the story of Beverly Whaling who resigned as mayor of Clary, West Virginia after she described Michelle Obama as an "ape in heels." 
Both women claimed they didn't realize those comparisons were racist. Regrettably, such slurs have a long, ugly history.
Herren, who was employed by Denver Health for $363,000/year, held an unpaid faculty appointment at the University of Colorado and was on the staff at Children's Hospital. She has been suspended by Denver Health while they sort out the thorny issue of whether employees can be disciplined for off-duty conduct, or whether that would violate free speech rights.  

The University, however, decided to sever its ties with Herren and issued a strong statement about such behavior.

While we might question whether both women really didn't know the implications of what they said, their behavior should serve as cautionary tales.

What Should You Do?  
  • First, make sure that you educate your employees about the types of behavior that are unacceptable and a violation of your policy and values. Ideally, the training should include numerous examples of the kinds of statements that have historical racial implications.
  • Second, realize that the Internet is not private and that it lasts forever. Even if you think you are among friends when you send out a Facebook post, know that they might pass your comments along to someone else who finds your comments objectionable (which is what happened to Herren). Before you post ask yourself: would I like my boss, a judge or the Russians to read this comment?

Did You Know?

All of our training on harassment, discrimination and diversity includes examples, videos and role plays relating to the history of these kinds of comments. For more information, call or write us at: 303-216-1020 or [email protected]

Be sure to read Lynne's helpful books about affirmative action and sexual harassment.

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