Employee racial discrimination complaints: Exploring power through co-cultural theory

Leslie Yvette Rodriguez

Abstract

The primary purpose of this case study was to examine the influence of power on an employee's decision to file a formal racial discrimination complaint against their employer with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Additionally, this case study explored the communicative strategies that lead up to and follow the filing of such a complaint. This study used both Orbe's (1998) co-cultural theory and French and Raven's theory on power bases (1968) as both theoretical foundations and lenses to analyze this occurrence. Four minority women from Central Texas participated in this qualitative case study. Specifically, in depth interviews were conducted where co-researchers were asked to provide narratives regarding the events that surrounded their complaint and narratives that revealed the communicative practices that were used to communicate with superiors and other employees before, during, and after the complaint process. These narratives were analyzed using the existing typologies provided by the two noted theories. McCracken's (1988) guidelines were used to guide the emergence of new categories. Five central conclusions were drawn based on the analysis that materialized from the proposed research questions. First, employees seek to address an occurrence of racial discrimination in house prior to filing legal charges, which provides organizations an opportunity to rectify the issue and avoid further legal consequences. Second, complainants maintain a heightened level of scrutiny regarding the actions of the organization during the process of the complaint. As such, it is critical that all decisions appear unbiased. Third, the absence of expert power and the use of coercive and legitimate power may increase the likelihood of an employee filing a formal racial discrimination complaint. Fourth, once an employee files a formal racial discrimination complaint with EEOC, communicative interaction between the employee and employer appears to halt. Fifth, a racial discrimination experience permanently alters an individual's future communicative experiences in current organizations. Combined, these results offer both theoretical implications as well as practical applications.