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HR Tip: Target memo says not all Hispanics eat tacos

The recent lawsuit filed by three former employees against Target arising out of a memorandum issued at one of Target's distribution centers has important lessons for employers. According to press reports, the memorandum, "Organization Effectiveness, Employee and Labor Relations Multi-Cultural Tips," was intended as a training document; however, it generated outrage with its poor choice of words and instructions to managers to recognize differences among Hispanic workers including:

"Food: not everyone eats tacos and burritos;

Music: not everyone dances to salsa;

Dress: not everyone wears a sombrero;

Mexicans (lower education level, some may be undocumented);

Cubans (Political refugees, legal status, higher education level); and may say 'OK, OK' and pretend to understand, when they do not, just to save face."

Target has issued a statement apologizing and while taking accountability for the contents made it clear the memorandum was created locally, was not approved at corporate headquarters and is not representative of Target.

It is hard to understand how a company like Target with a strong, positive public culture can be caught in such a lawsuit, not to mention public relations nightmare. Conflicts between HR and operation managers are inevitable particularly when job duties are unclear and communication lacking. While we don't know how or why this memo was created, it clearly represents a failure in training, processes and internal control. Inevitably such failures will lead to employment blunders that can be costly to employers.