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Thomson Reuters employee forum hostile to whites, suit says

Thomson Reuters sign outside office building


A former director of data science for Thomson Reuters claims in a federal lawsuit that the information company’s internal communications channel tolerated stereotypical comments about whites while suppressing opinions questioning aspects of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.

According to the Title VII hostile work environment and retaliation suit filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts on June 7, Thomson Reuters created an environment “permeated by antagonistic and racially divisive conversations based on racial essentialism and stereotypes” through its internal communications channel, “The Hub.”

“Only white employees were subjected to comments on The Hub associating their skin color with negative characteristics, such as an inability to self-reflect or analyze information properly (‘white fragility’),” the complaint states. “Only white employees were bombarded with negative racial stereotypes on The Hub, such as the stereotype that white women cry in order to manipulate and oppress, rather than to express genuine or authentic emotion.”

Filed by Isaac “Zack” Kriegman, the suit alleges that Kriegman lost his job in Thomson Reuters’ Boston office in June 2021 after he sent an email to senior company leadership and colleagues objecting to the racially hostile work environment and claiming his supervisor and the company’s human resources department ignored his complaints.

The plaintiff is represented by Michael T. Allen of Quaker Hill, Connecticut.

“We would all recognize that no one would tolerate an organization that broadcast throughout its workplace stereotypes about Blacks,” Allen said. “If you strike out ‘white’ from everything we [alleged] in the complaint and put in ‘Black’ or ‘Mexican’ or ‘Muslim,’ everyone would realize that that would be intolerable.”

A spokesperson said Thomson Reuters strongly denied the allegations.

While Kriegman’s claims have yet to be tested in court, some see the case as a stark warning to employers of the perils of hosting internal communication platforms that allow employees free rein to express unfiltered views on controversial subjects.

East Providence employment attorney Louise A. Herman called Thomson Reuters’ workplace communications platform a “recipe for disaster.”

“DEI initiatives in the workplace are important for a whole host of reasons. However, what is equally critical is how they are rolled out and how they are implemented,” Herman said. “It must be thoughtful, focused and have clear objectives. It must be managed by skilled facilitators. From what I could glean from the complaint, it sounded like they had this platform and allowed people to just go at it.”

Charlestown employment attorney Susanne Bines Hafer predicted the complaint would at least be able to withstand a motion to dismiss.

“It’s a plausible complaint on its face. Whether he’ll be able to establish the elements that are necessary to sustain it beyond summary judge or to trial depends on information we don’t have yet,” said Hafer, whose work with employers includes drafting handbooks and providing workplace training.

Jeffrey A. Dretler, an employer-side attorney in Boston, agreed that businesses should proceed with caution in setting up employee engagement platforms like The Hub.

“I don’t think the workplace is the proper forum for the expression of everybody’s ideas,” Dretler said. “It can be very disruptive. And that can be the very essence of harassment in the workplace.”