It is well known that a hostile work environment is present if an employer
denigrates an employee's race which can lead to damages for racial
discrimination in the workplace. But what if the employer and employee
are of the same race?
In a New York case decided last year, the U.S. District Court for the Southern
District of New York considered the case of a black supervisor who criticized
his black female subordinate. He had taken issue with her workplace attire
and claimed that she exhibited unprofessional behavior. His behavior in
criticizing her included shouting at her and included multiple uses of
the N-word. After the harsh criticism, she cried in the bathroom for 45 minutes.
During the trial, the jury listened to an audiotape that the plaintiff
recorded in March 2012 when the defendant was criticizing her and a co-worker.
(Secretly recording a conversation is legal in New York as long as at
least one party knows that the conversation is being recorded.)
he defendant supervisor repeatedly used racial slurs to defend his use
of it when asked to explain his actions. The plaintiff told her supervisor
that such language offended her, but the supervisor was dismissive of
The supervisor, who is of black and Puerto Rican descent, argued that the
N-word has multiple contexts in the black and Latino communities. He argued
that the N-word can be used to convey love. When asked if that was his
intended context when using the N-word to criticize the plaintiff, the
supervisor testified that was his intent.
The jury didn't buy the defense. The court awarded the plaintiff $250,000
in compensatory damages, plus $30,000 in punitive damages
As the NY federal court affirmed, is it not OK for coworkers to use racial
epithets even if the coworkers are of the same race or ethnicity.
If you feel you have been subject to racial discrimination in the workplace,
call the attorneys at Schwartz and Perry for help.