Our post about the “N-Word” and sexually harassing words drew a lot of comments. Let’s give Laurie Butler, a labor relations specialist from Nashville, the last word on this one.
We noted two federal appellate decisions which seemed to diverge when it came to the courts’ different perceptions as to the severity of a particular racial epithet as compared to various sexually harassing comments. A single use of the “N-Word” drew one court’s ire, while a whole series of sexually harassing comments didn’t seem to faze another court
We asked a number of somewhat facetious rhetorical questions: Are the courts crafting a bright-line test to determine when a crude and offensive remark is severe enough by itself to constitute a hostile work environment? Or a sliding scale of severity, perhaps giving crude and offensive remarks different numerical values on the “crude and offensive” scale?
And are the courts distinguishing severity based upon whether the remark is sexual or racial in nature? Do we conclude that race and gender cases are treated differently when it comes to the number of times an offensive remark is made? Or when it comes to the nature or offensiveness of the comments made?
Or is it just that the courts simply have two different tolerance levels for what is crude, offensive, or severe?
A number of readers were perplexed, bemused and angry. But perhaps Ms. Butler answered our questions most succinctly and perhaps accurately:
“Yeah, try using the ‘C’ word one time to a woman. It’s at least as offensive as the ‘N’ word.”
Curiously we have seen no caselaw on this word (admittedly we never looked). But we will leave it at that.