ABA Journal


Labor & Employment Law

African-American boss’s N-word rant leads to $250K compensatory award in bias case

Sep 3, 2013, 02:18 pm CDT


expert linguisic testimony?

By defensive lawyer on 2013 09 03, 3:13 pm CDT

Gimme' a break.

By yonse2 on 2013 09 03, 3:21 pm CDT

Do I understand this case to mean that merely being exposed to the N-word during a single rant results in $250K of psychological damage? (This is before punitive damages phase of the proceeding.)

My goodness are people ever fragile these days.

By Yankee on 2013 09 03, 3:22 pm CDT

$250,000 BEFORE punitive damages? What quantifiable compensable harm was there? This seems like the type of harassment case in which the award would be almost entirely punitive.

By Scales on 2013 09 03, 4:58 pm CDT

Talk about the proverbial slippery slope/floodgates of litigation scenario.... Four minutes? This must be a new record for awards for the intentional infliction of "butthurt." I sincerely hope this case is appealed.

By BMF on 2013 09 03, 5:06 pm CDT

Most stories by this particular author make no sense unless you do your own research. There's got to be more to the legal basis for such an award but this isn't a law journal or anything.

By Santana on 2013 09 03, 8:50 pm CDT

Unclear whether the boss used That Word once or more than once in the 4 minute tirade. If only once, the verdict is excessive. If thrice, however, at $83,333.33 a pop, it is clearly reasonable. I'd even knock it up to $90,000.

By Wine_Country_Dude on 2013 09 03, 11:01 pm CDT

A federal jury in Manhattan has awarded $250,000 to an African-American worker who claims her boss used the N-word in a 4-minute rant about her professional behavior and work attire.

I don't believe that it is ever acceptable to use such language, especially in an employer employee situation. And there are families who use abusive language towards one another but that is something entirely different that occurs privately between family members.

However, not all families share in the acceptance of using the n....word towards one another loving or not. But it certainly has no place in the work environment.

By concernedcitizen on 2013 09 03, 11:09 pm CDT

Concerned: I don't think abuse should be treated as "private" just because it occurs within a family. I'm surprised that you think otherwise.

By Wine_Country_Dude on 2013 09 03, 11:39 pm CDT

CNN is reporting the boss used it 9 times and told the employee more than once that she had traits and work habits of a "N." They even posted an audio that she secretly taped.

It was a hostile work environment claim. You wouldn't know it from this author who claims the money was awarded for using the N word. That's not a legal basis for awarding money. This is a law journal after all. But don't expect stories by this author to actually explain the relevant legal aspects of a story. Never fails to be vague and misleading.

By Santana on 2013 09 04, 7:04 am CDT

Every kid knows that "sticks and stone may break my bones...", how does the rest of that go? Anyway, obviously words can hurt, but $250K?! Give her a year's pay. That is more than fair. If she was so offended, she would have just walked out. If it turns out she was locked in there, then I am all for $250K

By AzAttorney on 2013 09 04, 4:30 pm CDT

I find "the N word" offensive, too; but I submit that our society has endowed this word with supernatural connotations that detract from rational discussion about racism and the meaning of words.

No word should be barred from utterance. It should be possible to discuss this word rationally without resorting to childish games like calling it "the N word." It should not be true that an African-American can use it, under some circumstances, without penalty but a European-American or Asian-American cannot use the word under any circumstances.

When we ascribe a word a supernatural connotation, we make it impossible to have a frank and open discussion about that word and what role it performs in society. We make such a word too powerful and its use too momentous. I look forward to the day when such a word is powerless; when such a word can be used in a rational discussion. I do not want to ever hear this word used as an insult or to harm another person. I want it drained of that power. I hope that one day, it is used as an insult at all, the insult is feeble and embarrassing to the user.

By Paul the Magyar on 2013 09 04, 8:54 pm CDT

Hear here, but I go considerably further.

The notion that some racially defined groups can use a word but others cannot--under pain of furious social ostracism and exclusion--furthers the balkanization of our culture. It is deleterious. Don't engage in elaborate rationalizations that A) the N-word is fundamentally hateful; B) blacks are permitted to use fundamentally hateful language with each other because, by wondrous liberal alchemy, it is transformed by loving intent; C) however, whites' intent, even if loving, can never overrule A); D) blacks cannot use it with blacks in an employment situation; but E) maybe blacks can use it with each other if the employment situation is a rapper's recording studio.

Stop the idiocy!

By Wine_Country_Dude on 2013 09 04, 9:25 pm CDT

What a bunch of pansies we've become.

By associate on 2013 09 05, 8:36 pm CDT

I heartily agree w/ associate's succinct comment @ 14 and Yankee's @ 3, but I also suspect it's not so much that we've *actually* become oh-so-sensitive, but rather that our legal system has created a huge profit motive for *pretending* to be such delicate flowers. To paraphrase Forrest Gump, maybe it's both. A lot of people are also just desperate for attention, as a story on Yahoo yesterday reflected in the tale of an obese 14 yr old girl who was allegedly told to leave a retail shop because she was too large for anything they sold there. The rude clerk's alleged comment devastated her psyche to no end, of course, so she ... handled it privately with the company. No, just kidding, naturally she ... posted it on her Facebook page, contacted the media, and retained an attorney.

Wonder of wonders, I also agree w/ Paul @ 12. I guess the one slight silver lining one could see here is an ending of the double standard that it's utterly verboten for "the N word" to pass a white person's lips under any circumstances, but just fine for black folks to sling it about. Though I too would rather see the word lose its power when spoken by anyone than become forbidden by all.

Speaking of which, I genuinely do not understand what the plaintiff's attorney was intending when she said "she hoped the case sends a message to those [who] 'have tried to take the sting out of the N-word. ... It's the most offensive word in the English language.'" She WANTS the word to retain its supernaturally stinging ability to hurt people's feelings??? Oh, right, she's a plaintiffs' attorney, of course she does ... how else to win those million-dollar verdicts I guess?

By Just Some Bloke on 2013 09 06, 4:36 pm CDT

For a good time, try using the word "niggardly" accurately in a sentence in a public place.

Its etymology and meaning have nothng to do with the dreaded, detested "N-word," but it will cause a riot anyway.

By AndytheLawyer on 2013 09 06, 11:26 pm CDT

It already did cause a riot in some District of Columbia City Council meeting about a year ago. Next up on the forbidden list: the River Niger in West Africa.

(The words "necromancy" and "nickelodeon" remain, at this telling, available for usage by the general population.)

By Wine_Country_Dude on 2013 09 06, 11:45 pm CDT

I doubt anyone could get that amount of compensatory damages for a four minute tirade. I suspect the four minute tirade was an example of ongoing atrocious behavior. Those of you who think that being called offended at being called a "n-----" is being overly sensitive, how many of you who are of Italian dissent would not be offended at being called such things as an acronym for without papers, or "d--o" or being asked which Mafia family you belong to? I think you'd be upset and have every right to be. Yankee has mentioned being of Eastern European extraction, would he care to be subjected to the various epithets applied to Eastern Europeans? I think not but a person objecting to being called "n-----" with its history is overly sensitive? Other than in quotation or as a historical reference that is a word which should become extinct.

By George Sly on 2013 09 08, 10:26 pm CDT

@ 18: Asks: "Those of you who think that being called offended at being called a “n——-” is being overly sensitive, how many of you who are of Italian dissent would not be offended at being called such things as an acronym for without papers, or “d—o” or being asked which Mafia family you belong to?"

Been there done that. For the first two, sometimes you just have to consider the source and get over it. Life is full of meritless arguments. Part of my job is to avoid them. As for "What Mafia family?" I usually reply: "The Borgias."

What never ceases to amaze me is that people who claim the PC title see nothing wrong with using phrases like "jewed someone down" for bargain, or "welshed" or "gypped" to indicate cheating.

By BMF on 2013 09 09, 8:36 pm CDT

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