A Single Instance Of Harassment Can Be Enough To Constitute A Hostile Work Environment

Despite improvements in race relations over the last several decades, many instances of racism still exist in the workplace. Two different federal laws exist that protect against race discrimination in the workplace – Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1981. Title VII prohibits employers from taking race into consideration when making employment decisions. This includes decisions such as whether to hire, fire or promote a worker. Title VII also prohibits harassment and retaliation for complaining about discrimination. Harassment includes acts such as derogatory racial jokes or subtle company policies such as dress codes or English-only rules.

Section 1981 is somewhat broader and protects the rights of all persons to make and enforce contracts regardless of race. Title VII applies to employers, but under 1981 individuals can be found responsible for discrimination and be required to pay damages.

If you have suffered race discrimination at work or have any questions about race discrimination, it’s a good idea to speak to a top Georgia employment attorney right away.

A recent case,Ayissi-Etoh v. Fannie Mae, looked at whether a black employee could bring a claim for race bias under Section 1981, harassment and retaliation against his employer.

The man, Magloire Ayissi-Etoh, claimed that an executive of the company denied him a raise explaining that the company already was “paying [him] a lot of money” for a “young black man. ” He also alleged that another official at the company called him the “N-word,” and yelled “[g]et out of my office nigger,”

In this instance the court explained that whether discrimination exists under 1981 is analyzed in the same way as claims under Title VII, and that an employee generally will be entitled to a trial if he presents direct evidence of discrimination. The court determined that the comment describing Ayissi-Etoh as a smart “young black man” who already is being paid “a lot of money” constitutes such direct evidence.

The court also determined that a jury could find that Ayissi-Etoh’s work environment was racially hostile. Importantly the court noted that a single use of the N-word could be enough to show racial harassment under Section 1981.

Further, writing in concurrence, Judge Kavanaugh said he wanted to “underscore an important point” that one single, but severe incident of harassment can be sufficient to establish a hostile work environment under federal anti-discrimination laws.
“It may be difficult to fully catalogue the various verbal insults and epithets that by themselves could create a hostile work environment,”

“No other word in the English language so powerfully or instantly calls to mind our country’s long and brutal struggle to overcome racism and discrimination against African Americans,” Kavanaugh said. “Here, as I see it, the alleged statement by the Fannie Mae Vice President to Ayissi-Etoh itself would establish a hostile work environment. With that understanding, I join the Court’s opinion.”

Unfortunately racism continues to exist in many workplaces around the country. If you believe that you have been the victim of race discrimination at work contact a dedicated Atlanta race discrimination lawyer at Buckley Bala Wilson Mew LLP immediately. Our attorneys are committed to protect employees and fighting against all types of workplace discrimination.