An employee sued his former employer, alleging that the employer discriminated against him on the basis of race and religion and subjected him to a hostile work environment. He made a number of other allegations, including violations of civil rights statutes, his First Amendment right to free speech, and his 14th Amendment right to due process; and conspiracy to violate his civil rights.
The district court dismissed the lawsuit prior to trial, finding that he had not stated any facts that, if true, would be a violation of the law. The employee appealed to the Court of Appeals.
The Court of Appeals agreed that the
dismissal of most of the lawsuit was appropriate. However, it found that the
employee had alleged one fact that, if proven to be true at trial, could allege
the creation of a hostile work environment. Specifically, in his hostile
work environment claim, the employee alleged that in the presence of other
employees, his supervisor referred to him using a racial epithet that included the N-word.
Previous decisions by the courts have found that, when considering all of the circumstances, a single incident of harassment, if sufficiently severe, can support a claim of hostile work environment. The courts have also said that "perhaps no single act can more quickly ‘alter the conditions of employment and create an abusive working environment’ than the use of an unambiguously racial epithet such as [the N-word] by a supervisor in the presence of his subordinates.”
N-word has been described as “a term that sums up . . . all the bitter years of
insult and struggle in America, a pure anathema to African Americans,
and probably the most offensive word in English.” Therefore, the use of
this phrase by an employee in the presence of other employees, was sufficient
to allow the case to proceed to trial.