Phillips & Associates recently won a trial involving an employer’s use of the “n-word” on behalf of a plaintiff employee. The plaintiff in the case was 38-year-old Brandi Johnson, a black employee at the employment agency STRIVE East Harlem. She was represented by Phillips & Associates attorneys Marjorie Sharpe and Alex Umamsky.
The defendants were STRIVE and its founder Rob Carmona. STRIVE is an employment agency that focuses on helping people who have difficult backgrounds enter the workplace through a boot-camp model.
Mr. Carmona, who is a 61-year-old black man of Puerto Rican descent, ranted at Ms. Johnson, his employee, for four minutes about workplace attire and unprofessional conduct using the n-word. She taped one of his tirades after he refused to listen to her complaints about verbal abuse and afterwards cried for 45 minutes in the restroom, feeling degraded. His conduct created a hostile work environment.
Later, Mr. Carmona could not dispute that he’d used the word. Instead, he and his attorneys argued to a federal jury that the “n-word” is a culturally acceptable term of love and endearment when used by a black person to another black person. He claimed he used it out of “love.”
According to him, the “n-word” is derogatory in certain contexts, such as when it is said by a white person, but not when is said by a black person. His attorneys claimed that the defendant had a different experience of the world, breaking his drug addiction through the help of counselors that used tough love and language. Mr. Carmona co-founded STRIVE in the ’80s and most of its employees are black women.
In a landmark decision, the jury disagreed with the defendant’s excuses, finding that the use of this word in the workplace is always hostile and discriminatory. The plaintiff was awarded $250,000 in compensatory damages. Compensatory damages are those damages designed not to punish, but to place a plaintiff back in the position he or she would have been in, if not for the actions of the defendant.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other federal laws prohibit harassment of the kind suffered by Ms. Johnson in this case. Conduct or comments based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, sexual orientation or related retaliation are considered harassment when the conduct is so severe or pervasive it creates a hostile work environment or when a supervisor’s harassment leads to a tangible change in employment status, such as a termination or failure to promote.
If you are subject to harassment on any of the protected characteristics described above, our knowledgeable hostile work environment attorneys can help you protect your rights in either state or federal court. As you can see from the case described above, sometimes people with protected characteristics engage in harassment. Their conduct, like those who do not have any protected characteristics, is proscribed by law.
We work tirelessly to ensure that employees are able to work in an environment free of harassment. To schedule a free, confidential consultation with a tenacious and tireless advocate, please call the lawyers of Phillips & Associates at (212) 248-7431 or contact us via our website.
More Blog Posts:
Manhattan Hotel Kitchen Worker Sues Employer Over Alleged Co-Worker Sexual Harassment, New York Employment Attorney Blog, August 16, 2013
Federal Law Prohibits Employers in New York and Elsewhere from Terminating a Worker Over Medical Leave Related to a Miscarriage, New York Employment Attorney Blog, August 9, 2013