In a case that could have repercussions in Los Angeles and throughout the country, a New York jury has found in favor of a woman who sued her employer for using a racial slur multiple times when counseling her. Unlike many hostile workplace and discrimination cases, both the plaintiff and her boss are of the same race.
The 38-year-old woman, who is African-American, says that she was called the N-word by her manager, who is an African-American of Puerto Rican descent. The manager is the founder of STRIVE East Harlem, an organization that helps find employment for people who have difficulty finding work due to arrest records or other reasons. He, a former drug addict who had his own run-ins with the law, started the respected organization in 1984. Since then, it has helped 50,000 people get jobs. The plaintiff herself had a grand larceny conviction on her record when she was hired by STRIVE.
The lawsuit stemmed from an incident in March 2012 when the manager counseled the plaintiff about her clothing and behavior, which he said were inappropriate for the workplace. During that meeting, which the plaintiff recorded, the manager used the N-word eight times. The plaintiff testified that she was hurt and offended by her boss’s tirade.
The manager, who is 61, testified that he was just speaking plainly in an effort to help the woman, as people had once done for him. In his testimony, he said he believes that the N-word does not always have a negative connotation, and also noted that he is from a different generation. However, he admitted that he needs to re-think how he speaks to people when he is providing guidance.
The jury ordered STRIVE East Harlem and the 61-year-old man to pay $250,000 in compensatory damages, and $30,000 in punitive damages, $25,000 of which are to be paid by the manager himself. STRIVE said that while it is considering appealing the jury’s decision, it plans to increase training among its staff regarding diversity, discrimination, and harassment.
After the verdict, the plaintiff and her attorney both spoke out about the impact they hope it will have. They expressed hope that the award will send a message that the use of racially-offensive language, and the N-word in particular, should not be tolerated in the workplace, no matter the race of anyone involved.
ABC News, “Jury Awards $280K in Case Over N-Word Abuse” Larry Neumeister, Sep. 03, 2013