Were the police videotapes that led to the suspension of around 20 San Francisco police officers this week an “egregious” example of racism, sexism, and homophobia, as Chief Heather Fong charged, or just good-spirited sophomoric humor? The San Francisco Chronicle surveyed experts and others, and found that no employer would want workers producing videos like those on work time, using company uniforms and equipment. “They are not unlawful, but they would likely violate any company’s policy against harassment,” said Garry Mathiason, a senior partner with the employment law firm of Littler Mendelson.
City officials say the videos were made illicitly during work hours using department uniforms and equipment. The videos include content that could be viewed by many people as sexual or racial slurs. Most large companies these days have anti-harassment policies that prohibit sexual and racial jokes, slurs, comments, and pictures. “When you are given a police uniform and a badge, you can’t be like everyone else and have this kind of politically incorrect humor,” said Joseph McNamara, former San Jose police chief and now a fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. “When an entertainer like Chris Rock makes offensive comments, it’s in a very different context,” said Barry Chersky, an Oakland attorney. “We can like or dislike Chris Rock’s material, but he is not serving as the representative of a city charged with protecting all the citizens of the city.” In a paradox, workplaces have become increasingly restrictive about what is acceptable behavior, while society as a whole has become more permissive.