HR News & Trends, Legal Issues

A Court Ruling About Workplace Conduct That Will Blow Your Mind

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By Eric B. Meyer

Take a few minutes to read this court decision. It will blow your mind.

Here’s the long and short of it:

Three black employees sue for race discrimination claiming that they were subjected to a racially-hostile work environment. The court actually did the math:

During the relevant time period, Facer used the word “nigger” or “nigga” almost daily, or at least three to four times per week. Assuming that the Bratchers and Buie worked an average of 48 weeks a year, it would mean that Facer used the word “nigger” or “nigga” at the work site at least 144 times per year.”

Court: No proof that comments offended

The court described these facts as presenting the “rare case where there is no dispute as to the pervasiveness of the conduct in question. No reasonable jury could find that a reasonable African-American would not be offended by this conduct.” Also, the court held that the employer’s anti-harassment policy was “unreasonable as a matter of law” because it required employees to report harassment to their harassing supervisor.

But here’s the kicker: the court found that the plaintiffs could not establish, as a matter of law, that the comments offended them.

Seriously?

In its opinion, the court identified 12 separate complaints that the plaintiffs registered, including to the owners of the company. The court also dismissed the “plaintiffs listen to rap music and rappers say ‘n***a’ a lot” defense. [Almost as bad as the “she was asking for it” defense].

Notwithstanding, the court considered the testimony of three (3) witnesses (out of 24 total) who testified that they did not believe that the plaintiffs were subjectively offended by Facer’s conduct — you know, calling them n***er/n***a every day. That was enough to create a dispute of material facts.

So, this case will go to a jury where the plaintiffs will have to prove that they were offended by what the court itself described as a “steady barrage of opprobrious racial comments.”

Unreal.

This was originally published on Eric B. Meyer’s blog, The Employer Handbook.

Eric B. Meyer is a partner in the Labor and Employment Group of the Philadelphia-based law firm of Dilworth Paxson LLP . He dedicates his practice to litigating and assisting employers on labor and employment issues affecting the workplace, including collective bargaining, discrimination, employee handbook policies, enforcement of restrictive covenants, and trade secret protection. Eric also serves as a volunteer mediator for the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Contact him at emeyer@dilworthlaw.com .