Racial Conflict at the Law Firm
What Happened? Historical Background to the Conflict
Donald Trump, the President of the United States, has a history of making racially controversial remarks and taking actions widely seen as playing upon racial anxieties in the United States. He tweeted fake statistics claiming that black Americans are responsible for the majority of murders of whites, and in speeches, he continually linked blacks with violent crime.
Veronica recently lost a relative in a street crime. No one knows who was responsible for the murder but many believe it was a person of African origin. There have been a few cases of theft, and recently, a young African American was arrested for this offense. Veronica has become used to endlessly seeing young African American men gambling on the streets. She thinks that they are idle and a liability to their country. She strongly believes in Donald Trump’s statements and feels that a lot should be done to ensure that all African Americans are kept in line.
Lisa is an African American receptionist at a prestigious law firm. She is well known and loved by everyone for having a big heart. She shows concern for everyone and genuinely cares for their wellbeing. She is very efficient in her work and her bosses love her. Most clients know Lisa as the most efficient secretary at the law firm.
Veronica’s lawyer left Lisa an important document to give to Veronica. Veronica decided to pass by the law firm in the afternoon and pick it up before attending a meeting that should be taking place at about the same time. She didn’t expect it to take long and got agitated when Lisa spent time answering a call she didn’t think was important. Veronica also felt that as one of their important clients she should be attended to with great care.
Lisa’s friend, Derby, didn’t come to work that day and Lisa was worried about her. Derby has a violent husband and Lisa did not know what may have happened this time around. She earnestly hoped that Derby was well. Lisa, who had been trying Derby’s phone several times, finally received a call from her about the same time Veronica walked in. Lisa did not see Veronica arrive and so she answered the call. Lisa asked Derby how she was and explained that she had been trying to reach her. She listened to everything Derby had to say. ‘Oh hun I was just checking on you,’ that’s all Veronica got from the conversation. The rest was a blur because Veronica immediately assumed that Lisa was busy gossiping on the phone and not taking her job seriously.
‘Africans’, Veronica snapped. She had had it with the African American community. ‘I’m sorry, what did you say?’ Lisa asked suddenly furious. She had had it with all the negative attitude people had been giving the African American community and some unfair treatment that she felt she had received. But it was never this bad.
‘You should be attending to clients you know, honestly, not everyone has the time for gossip. There are people who actually work and take life seriously to provide for their families. You need to think of that. I am here for the document Mr. Lambert left behind this morning’.
‘I am sorry, Ma’am, Mr. Lambert didn’t leave behind any document’. Lisa said with a stark look determined to not help this woman in any way. She would have to get herself someone else to help her.
Veronica got tremendously upset. Not only was this lady in the wrong but now she was refusing to attend to her. She had trusted this firm with a lot of her work and now she was being ignored by a woman with attitude.
‘Now listen here, please don’t waste my time. If you don’t give me that document, I will be forced to complain about you’.
The firm got to know about this incident between their most hardworking staff member and one of their most important clients. If it is not resolved, it will affect the firm directly.
Each Other’s Stories — how each person understands the situation and why
Lisa’s Story — This woman will not get away with disrespecting me and insulting my race. This has to stop.
Position: She must apologize.
Safety/Security: It is important that I be assertive and protect myself and others from racist behavior in all forms. It will start with something small and if unchecked will get worse. If I do not stand up now it could get worse.
Group Needs: Also the environment right now is quite tense as it is; we cannot let people keep forming negative assumptions about us.
Self-esteem and Respect: I cannot let this woman be rude to me and I continue smiling with her. It will be a sign of weakness and servitude on my part. I am a human being with dignity and should be treated with respect.
Psychological Needs: I do a lot of great work for this law firm and I am very committed. The least I can expect is to be treated with kindness and respect. No matter how important a client she is I have also given many years to this firm.
Job Security: I cannot continue to work in a hostile environment. If I do not stand up to this lady my work life will become unbearable and eventually I will have to leave my job. I cannot afford to be without a job and I love this job.
Veronica’s Story — This lady is just another African American taking up space and making our lives hard. I don’t have to put up with this. It’s time they learned a lesson or two.
Position: She must be fired.
Safety/Security: If we do not check the behavior of the African American people in our community they will get out of control and we will pay the price. I already lost my cousin who knows what could happen to me. We are not safe in this environment anymore.
Financial: I need a law firm that takes efficient care of my business. I cannot afford to have to deal with someone with a lot of attitude and who doesn’t take her job seriously. My business depends on this.
Psychological Needs: I need to show this woman that she should take her job seriously and to never take me for granted again. I am an important client of this firm. She should acknowledge that.
Mediation Project: Mediation Case Study developed by Helga Akao, 2018