A black employment agency worker was awarded $250,000 in compensatory damages and $30,000 in punitive damages after she sued her former boss, the founder of employment agency STRIVE East Harlem for discrimination alleging he called her the N-word on multiple occasions.
The issue in this case was whether it is culturally acceptable to use the N-word among black people in the work place.
The defendant argued that the use of the N-word is subject to a double standard, meaning that it may be degrading when used by whites but it is acceptable when used among blacks. The defendant also explained that the word can be used in different contexts and when he aimed it at fellow black people, it was a term of love and endearment.
Jurors disagreed with this vision and agreed with the plaintiff that using this word between blacks does not make it any less disrespectful and degrading. It created a hostile work environment for the employment agency worker.
The plaintiff’s attorney explained that:
When you use the [N-word] to an African-American, no matter how many alternative definitions that you may try to substitute with [it], that is no different than calling a Hispanic by the worst possible word you can call a Hispanic, [or] calling a homosexual male the worst possible word that you can call a homosexual male.
The case shows how racism can appear in different forms and cannot be justified by arguing that it was a term of love (in a particular context). The decision of the jury is a reminder that using racial slurs is illegal and intolerable in any workplace situation.