On September 4th we wrote about a NY case brought by a black employee who alleged that she was called the “N-word” by the company owner – who is also black. We asked: Does that matter? In the NY federal lawsuit, “who can say it and who can’t” was a big issue.
The AP reported that the owner claimed that when he called Plaintiff the “N-word,” he meant it lovingly, since, he said, the word has “multiple contexts” in the black and Latino communities, sometimes indicating love. Plaintiff didn’t see it that way, and claimed that he had created a hostile work environment. She testified that “I was offended. I was hurt. I felt degraded. I felt disrespected. I was embarrassed.”
The federal jury awarded Plaintiff $250,000 in compensatory damages, and is now considering awarding punitive damages.
We have now learned about a similar case where Alabama State University was ordered to pay $1,078,611 to three black former administrative employees for racial (and sexual) harassment and retaliation after they were subjected repeatedly to the N-word (and other harassment) by the associate executive director to a high-level administrator, both of whom are also black. These words were used commonly in the workplace, and frequently directed at plaintiffs.
As the Court noted, one plaintiff heard the assistant “use the word ‘nigger,’ ‘nigga,’ ‘nigga shit,’ ‘bitch,’ ‘stupid bitches,’ ‘fat bitch,’ and ‘white bitch’” in the office … [and] said things like, ‘I’m sick of this nigga shit. These stupid bitches can’t do anything right. And, they ain’t nothing but some niggas.’” Her “abusive conduct was also aimed at [plaintiff’s] family, as she called [plaintiff’s] seven-year-old son “a nigger,” upsetting him so much that he crawled under his mother’s desk and curled up in the fetal position.”
The senior administrator not only turned a deaf ear to plaintiffs’ complaints, but “also threatened retribution for ASU employees who cooperated with the EEOC in their investigation of [one plaintiff’s] claims, warning that ‘no one was to speak with EEOC and that if they did, they would be dealt with. Terminated.’”
The Court stated that “[W]e are unnerved by the apparent acquiescence to, if not outright condoning of, the abusive work environment created by [the university’s] high-level employees. Such conduct simply has no place in a work environment, especially at a publicly funded university.”