Boeing, FedEx Punish Alleged Racist Actions in Wake of Protests

(Bloomberg) -- Companies, including Boeing Co. and FedEx Corp., are coming under increasing pressure to hold employees accountable for their behavior inside and outside the workplace in the wake of a national outcry over racism.

The planemaker suspended a worker who made an “abusing and harassing racial remark” to a colleague, and that person “is no longer a Boeing employee,” Chief Executive Officer Dave Calhoun said Wednesday. Calhoun cited the incident, which happened about 10 days ago, in a message to employees promising to redouble efforts to “drive out behaviors that violate our values and injure out colleagues.”

FedEx fired an employee who took part in a counter-protest, caught on video, that mocked the killing of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white police officer in Minneapolis pressed his knee down on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes while three other officers failed to intervene. Floyd’s May 25 death launched weeks of turmoil and violence across the nation and world as protesters took to the streets to denounce racism and police brutality.

“FedEx holds its team member to a high standard of personal conduct, and we do not tolerate the kind of appalling and offensive behavior depicted in this video,” the company said in a statement. “A diverse and inclusive workforce is at the heart of our business, and we stand with those who support justice and equality.”

Social media -- and the public pressure it brings -- is a driving force behind some of the moves. Amy Cooper was fired from her finance job at Franklin Templeton after a video went viral of her dispute in Central Park with a birdwatcher last month before Floyd’s death. The clip showed her threatening to tell police that “an African-American man is threatening my life,” after a dispute over leashing her dog. “We do not tolerate racism of any kind,” the company said in a tweet.

Company Warning

FedEx employees were advised of the company’s strong stance against racism in a June 1 letter from CEO Fred Smith and Chief Operating Officer Raj Subramaniam that said, “There is absolutely no place for racism or unequal treatment anywhere, and we must unequivocally speak out and reject it when we see it.”

The Boeing missive was the second that Calhoun has sent to employees outlining the company’s stance on bigotry since Floyd’s death. Calhoun, who took over the top job at the Chicago-based manufacturer in January, said he’s spent recent days hearing of the effects of discrimination from employees, and holding discussions on the topic with senior executives and his counterparts at other companies.

The conversations have “reinforced for me an obvious point: What’s happening across the U.S. now goes beyond discrimination and harassment, beyond diversity and inclusion. What we’re seeing is the ongoing human cost of historic and persistent racial inequality in the United States,” Calhoun wrote.

“And a second obvious point: As a company and as human beings, we need to work even harder at doing something about it.”

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