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Video Editor Sues for Racial Discrimination in her Workplace

Racism can rear its ugly head anywhere and anytime, causing anger and humiliation, but when it happens in the workplace, it affects people's very livelihood. Last Friday, a complaint was filed in New York in which alleged that hostile work environment due to racial discrimination caused the plaintiff to be fired.

Tiffani Johnson, who says she is the only African-American woman to have ever worked as a video editor in CollegeHumor's original content department, claimed website owners IAC/InteractiveCorp and Connected Ventures LLC violated New York City law by engaging in race- and gender-based discrimination and retaliation.

In August 2010, Johnson was hired as a video editor in CollegeHumor's original content department by David Fishel, the department's post-production supervisor. Within several weeks after Johnson took the job, the defendants fired Fishel, in part because he pressed them to hire Johnson, according to the complaint.

When Johnson started her new job, the only other African- American and the only other female African-American working in the same department quit, claiming has her reason the hostile work environment in which she was forced to work. She objected to the display of pornography in the workplace, the disparaging and hostile demeanor of her supervisor, who was a male Caucasian.

Johnson claimed she was subject to the same treatment. She was shunned and ignored by her white male colleagues, who complained when Johnson sought their counsel or help on projects, according to the complaint. One of the colleagues Johnson worked with on a project referred to her editing work as "ghetto cut," the suit alleged.

Eventually, Johnson was assigned to work as the sole video editor on a project that was the subject of extensive and constant complaints and was viewed as undesirable, riddled with problems and difficult to execute, according to the complaint. The defendants dismissed her complaints about the difficulties she encountered working on the project, the suit said. She was eventually placed on probation, but was told to start looking for a new job even before the probationary period started.

Johnson was subsequently terminated, and was replaced by a white male employee in the position of video editor. The company also hired a white woman with less experience than Johnson to work as a video editor, the complaint said.

Johnson said she has been unable to find a similar job since she was fired. She is seeking to be reinstated in her former position, with salary increments, back pay and benefits, as well as damages of at least $300,000.

It is illegal for an employer to engage in racial discrimination. An employer commits race discrimination when it makes job decisions on the basis of race or when it adopts seemingly neutral job policies that disproportionately affect members of a particular race.

Federal and most states' laws forbid race discrimination in every aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, promotions, compensation, job training, discipline, and termination. If an employer intentionally singles out applicants or employees of a particular race for less favorable treatment, he is engaging in "disparate treatment" discrimination. An employee who makes a disparate treatment claim alleges that he or she was treated differently than other employees who were in a similar situation, because of the employee's race. For example, an employer commits disparate treatment discrimination when it promotes only white employees to supervisory positions, requires only job applicants of a certain race to submit to drug tests, or refuses to allow employees of certain races to deal with customers.

If you have been subject to race discrimination in your New York workplace, contact the attorneys at Schwartz and Perry LLP. We can help you enforce your rights under the law.