It’s called a hostile work environment.

In a case of first impression, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York recently considered the case of a black supervisor who criticized his black female subordinate. He had taken issue with her workplace attire and claimed that she exhibited unprofessional behavior. His behavior in criticizing her included shouting at her and included multiple uses of the N-word. After the harsh criticism, she cried in the bathroom for 45 minutes.

During the trial, the jury listened to an audiotape that the plaintiff recorded in March 2012 when the defendant was criticizing her and a co-worker. (Secretly recording a conversation is legal in New York as long as at least one party knows that the conversation is being recorded.)

As reported in the New York Daily News, the defendant supervisor repeatedly used racial slurs to defend his use of it when asked to explain his actions. The plaintiff told her supervisor that such language offended her, but the supervisor was dismissive of her complaints.

The supervisor, who is of black and Puerto Rican descent, argued that the N-word has multiple contexts in the black and Latino communities. He argued that the N-word can be used to convey love. When asked if that was his intended context when using the N-word to criticize the plaintiff, the supervisor testified that was his intent.

The jury didn’t buy the defense. The court awarded the plaintiff:

  • $250,000 in compensatory damages, plus
  • $30,000 in punitive damages

As the NY federal court affirmed, is it not OK for coworkers to use racial epithets even if the coworkers are of the same race or ethnicity.

Contact the NEW YORK CITY HARASSMENT ATTORNEYS at the Derek Smith Law Group, PLLC at