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Friday, July 22, 2016

My Boss Called Me “the N-Word’ - Blatant Racial Discrimination in the Workplace

Some African Americans still undergo a disturbing amount of blatant racism on the job, including having a supervisor call the employee the “N-Word” on job. As shocking as these facts are, incidents of blatant racism, such as the “N-Word” or even the extreme symbolism of a noose left laying around in the place of employment, are far more common than generally realized.

One such case, where the employee alleged that he was subjected to the “N-Word” on job,  was filed under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, “NJLAD”, in State Superior Court, with the author of this blog as the Plaintiff’s counsel, and the case settled for six figures.

Imagine coming to work each day for a supervisor who referred to you as the “N-Word”. Could anything be more demeaning or infuriating? The author of this blog currently represents a public state employee in a lawsuit filed in Superior Court, brought under the NJLAD, where the employee alleges he was subjected to being called the “N-word” repeatedly on a daily basis by his supervisor. Tolerating such outrageous behavior at work or finding a new job are not the only options available to employees. Many employees are understandably hesitant to make complaints against their supervisors or co-workers, fearing termination or worsening treatment if they stay on the job. But the law protects employees from retaliation for exercising their civil rights. If you have been subjected to blatant racism, such as use of the "N-word", it is essential for you to contact an experienced, competent and compassionate employment discrimination attorney who will be aggressive about enforcing your rights.

If, after you complain about racial discrimination or harassment practices by a supervisor or co-worker, the quality of your work environment, job assignments, and work conditions suffer further, you may have another claim for illegal retaliation. Examples of retaliation may include reduced hours and/or pay, demotion to a less desirable position or shift, or even termination.

Across America, racial discrimination, racial harassment, and retaliation continue to be unfortunate realities in the workplace-and New Jersey public entities are no exception. In another example, for the second time in about four years, a different public entity, New Jersey Transit, is again the subject of a racial discrimination lawsuit. The initial suit, brought by minority police officers, was settled. In the second suit, seven of New Jersey Transit’s current or former African-American employees have brought suit alleging they were subjected to racial insults and were treated and paid unfairly in comparison to their white counterparts.  As reported in, the lawsuit also accused a former supervisor of using the "N word" in the workplace, and that the same supervisor  put a makeshift noose around a worker's neck and declared, "This is how things were handled in the South." 

In addition to the above-referenced makeshift noose incident and use of the “N-Word”, workers in the second New Jersey Transit case allege several other instances of racial discrimination and harassment, including unequal pay and being passed over for promotions. Allegedly, black workers were told there was a freeze on merit raises but claim select non-black counterparts received raises through suspect job reclassifications. In addition, after the suit was filed, at least one employee claimed his supervisor retaliated against him by sending him a marked up copy of the complaint, repeatedly pressuring him to talk about the case, and warning him to beware of the “versions of truth” he’d say. 

A noose is a sufficiently severe racial symbol with violent implications that some courts have held equates to a death threat. As reported in government statistics, filed lawsuits alleging use of the “N-word” or noose incidents at work are far more common than imaginable.  A quick partial survey of some government statistics reveals the following filed cases where use of the “N-word” against employees and noose incidents in the workplace were an integral part of the complaint: 

•In March 2014, a federal district court upheld a jury verdict in favor of the EEOC and ruled that Sparx Restaurant of Menomonie, Wis., must provide back pay with interest of more than $41,000 in addition to the jury's award of damages of $15,000 to a former employee who was fired in retaliation for complaining about a racist display in the workplace. The display included a dollar bill with a noose around George Washington's neck and drawings of a man on horseback and a hooded figure with "KKK" written on his hood

•In September 2010, an oil well servicing contractor was sued for terminating an African-American employee allegedly because of his race and for complaining about racial discrimination. After being subjected to racial slurs and witnessing a supervisor display a noose with a black stuffed animal hanging from it, the employee complained. Subsequent to the complaints, the employee was fired.

•In October 2012, a federal district court in Texas ordered AA Foundries Inc. to take specific measures to prevent racial harassment of Black employees at its San Antonio plant following a $200,000 jury verdict finding the company liable for race discrimination under Title VII. Evidence at trial indicated that a White supervisor used "the N-word" in reference to Black employees, called male Black employees "motherfucking boys," posted racially tinged materials in an employee break room, and accused Black employees of "always stealing and wanting welfare." After several employees filed racial harassment charges with the EEOC, a noose was displayed in the workplace. When some employees complained, the supervisor allegedly replied the noose was "no big deal" and that workers who complained were "too sensitive." 

•In August 2012, a Tampa, Fla.-based environmental services company agreed to settle a race discrimination and harassment case brought by the EEOC and eleven intervening plaintiffs for $2,750,000 and other relief. In the lawsuit, EEOC alleged that the harassment of African American employees included multiple displays of nooses, the repeated use of the "N-word," and physical threats. The EEOC also claimed that four White employees were harassed by their White co-workers because they associated with African-American employees. Two African-American employees also alleged they were fired because of their race and two White employees asserted they were fired for engaging in protected activity and in retaliation for associating with African-American employees. At summary judgment, the district court denied in part the company's motion, stating that the company ignored both the extreme symbolism of a noose and that a reasonable jury could conclude that the worksite had at least some racial tension given the other nooses, threats, and racial epithets that each African-American employee experienced, and that the noose was intended to intimidate all African-Americans.

•In June 2012, Yellow Transportation Inc. and YRC Inc. agreed to settle for $11 million a suit alleging that the trucking companies permitted the racial harassment of Black employees at a now-closed Chicago Ridge, Ill., facility. The proposed consent decree would settle both EEOC's suit and a private suit filed in 2008 by 14 Black employees under the Civil Rights Act of 1866 (42 U.S.C. § 1981), which were consolidated for purposes of settlement. In its complaint, the EEOC claimed that Black employees at the Chicago Ridge facility, which closed in 2009, were subjected to multiple incidents of hangman's nooses and racist graffiti, comments, and cartoons. 

•In September 2010, a mineral company agreed to pay $440,000 and other relief to settle a class race discrimination and retaliation lawsuit. Allegedly, the company disciplined an African-American quality control supervisor for having facial hair and using a cell phone during work, while Caucasian employees were not reprimanded for similar conduct. In addition to management subjecting the Black supervisor to heightened and unfair scrutiny, the company moved his office to the basement, while White employees holding the same position were moved to higher floors. Other African-American employees were subjected to racial harassment, such as a White supervisor placing a hangman's noose on a piece of machinery.

Every situation is fact specific, and if you believe you may be the target of an employer’s illegal racial discrimination, be it blatant or subtle,  please contact Hope A. Lang, Attorney at Law today for a free consultation. 

Hope A. Lang, Attorney at Law serves clients throughout New Jersey, including Bergen, Middlesex, Essex, Hudson, Monmouth, Ocean, Union, Camden, Passaic, and Morris Counties with locations in Central, western and northern NJ to meet with clients.

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