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When a Single Racial Slur May Be Enough to Give You a Successful Discrimination Case in California

Having to endure racial slurs or epithets at work can be an extremely troubling thing, even if the word was used exactly once. In some situations, even just a single use of certain slurs or epithets can be enough to constitute the evidence you need for a successful workplace discrimination lawsuit under the Fair Employment and Housing Act. If that is something you’ve had to deal with at work, a favorable judgment and a substantial award of compensation may be within your reach, so contact an experienced Oakland employment discrimination attorney without delay.

Back in September, the Court of Appeal issued a ruling in an employment discrimination case that, while bad news for the employee who sued, represents potentially very good news for other workers who’ve heard certain slurs at work.

T.B., a Black woman who was an investigative assistant with a Bay Area district attorney’s office, became startled when a mouse ran through the area in which she was working. A coworker mocked her, saying, “you… is so scary.” There was, however, a word between “you” and “is.” That word was that profoundly toxic slur, the “n-word.”

Eventually, T.B. sued the district attorney’s office for race discrimination in violation of the FEHA. T.B. lost her case. The law says that, for racial discrimination to be a violation of the law, it must be severe or pervasive. Obviously, a single incidence of anything is, by itself, isolated and not pervasive discrimination.

But is it severe? The trial court and the appeals court ruled that it was not… in this circumstance. T.B.’s case involved one use of the slur by a colleague and none by workers who were in supervisory positions. Those facts were essential to the conclusions that the courts reached.

A slur coming from a supervisor is particular threatening

The appeals court looked at the multiple federal court cases that T.B. cited in her appeal but, in each of those other cases, there was a difference: the person who used the slur was a supervisor. Those other decisions pointed out that a supervisor’s isolated use of racial slurs impacts a worker’s job conditions much more profoundly than a coworker’s isolated use of the same word. As one of those opinions put it, “a supervisor’s power and authority invests his or her harassing conduct with a particular threatening character.”

So, T.B. lost her case because her evidence included only a single use of the slur by a colleague (not a supervisor). That doomed her case, but if your case has similar but slightly different facts, then this ruling should tell you that your case might yield a very different outcome. For one thing, if you have a peer who uses the n-word on multiple occasions at work and your employer fails to take action to stop that conduct, even after you reported it, then your case would be different – and potentially much stronger – than T.B.’s.

Similarly, if your case involves only a single use of the n-word, but that slur was made by your supervisor, then your case would also have the potential to be much stronger than T.B.’s. In previous cases, employers have been found liable when a supervisor used the n-word once, even when the supervisor did not point the slur directly at the Black employees working for him.

All racial epithets are inappropriate for the workplace, but some are especially egregious. If your supervisor has spoken in those terms, even if it happened only once, you may be entitled to recover substantial compensation through legal action. Reach out to the Law Office of Stephen M. Fuerch to provide you with the in-depth advice and diligent legal advocacy your case deserves. Attorney Fuerch is an experienced Oakland employment discrimination attorney who is ready to get to work for you. To learn more, contact us through our website or call our office at (925) 463-2575 to schedule your confidential initial consultation today.

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