Here in good ol’ NYC, a new case was filed of racial harassment of an African American employee alleging (take a guess … you can do it) … use of the N-word! Wouldn’t you know it – a racial harassment case using the N-word. How last year, right? (Well, to be accurate, the acts alleged to have occurred in this case were from 2018).
I try to cull as many filed cases of workplace racial harassment as come across my desk and write about them to underscore that such acts and behavior have not gone away – indeed, one might be forgiven to think that they have increased (I have no stats, just empirical evidence).
I have especially noted in this blog the use of the N-word, or nooses, as being a part of virtually all of these filed racial harassment court cases – these are not merely just words or symbols. And we’ve tried to emphasize to employers the importance of top down behavior and training, training and more training.
Now comes an especially disturbing and disheartening case just filed in the New York Supreme Court involving alleged constant racial harassment of an African American employee, the use of lots and lots of N-words from the general manager on down, and perhaps almost as disturbing, all allegedly committed by other employees in another protected group – Hispanic-Americans.
The facts of this case have been taken from the just-filed complaint (to which, you must understand, the defendants have not yet had the opportunity to respond or rebut), and of particular note is not just the egregious nature of the alleged acts, but also that the use of the N-word allegedly began with the new general manager tolerating and accepting its usage by the employees, and then using it himself.
We’ve noted here frequently that harassment training emphasizes appropriate top down behavior – employees will generally follow the lead of management. If the managers or executives tolerate or use such language themselves, you can be sure that employees who might otherwise be merely tempted to also use such language will now do so.
In this case in early 2018 a new general manager was installed in a chain restaurant. It is alleged that he “immediately began to discriminate against Plaintiff and other non-Hispanic employees,” and “tolerated widespread use of the N-word.”
“On a daily basis, many of the shop’s Hispanic employees … addressed African American employees and each other as “Nigger” or “My nigger.” They would sometimes use the N-word to address Plaintiff directly, such as, by way of example only, asking her for her view on a matter by saying, “You feel me, my nigger?” Similarly, on one occasion Plaintiff walked in a minute or two late and Rosario said to her, “Nigger, you late.”
“The shop’s Hispanic employees would also regularly use the N-word to discuss and comment on customers, such as saying, by way of example only, “Look at that nigger’s shoes” or “This nigger never got no money, I ain’t giving this nigger another free coffee.”
Only a month or so later, according to the complaint, the new general manager
“began regularly using the N-word in conversation with team members and supervisors under his management. By way of example only, he would variously admonish, summon, and express disbelief to subordinates with the following phrases, respectively: “Stop playing, nigger,” “Come here, my nigger,” and “Fuck outta here, my nigger” … [H]e also accepted and normalized the use of the N-word by Team Members. By way of example only, on a regular basis, Randy, the Hot Chef, would address [Plaintiff] as “My nigger” and Ramos would address Randy as “My G” [i.e., “My gansta”].”
When Plaintiff complained to the general manager about all of this, he told her that “People don’t mean anything by it. We all grew up in the ‘hood.’
Not good. Or legal. But, of course, neither were the underlying acts and words. In any event, who else was the plaintiff to complain to if the boss was an alleged perpetrator? (Maybe there was an owner? Or a company headquarters? But plaintiff likely had no idea).
Despite plaintiff’s complaint, the general manager and the other employees continued to use the N-word regularly, with one employee overheard as saying that the general manager is “gonna make the [N-word]s work like Mexicans.” The general manager also allegedly would “admonish, summon, and express disbelief to subordinates with the following phrases, respectively: ‘Stop playing, [N-word],’ ‘Come here, my [N-word],’ and ‘F__k outta here, my [N-word].’”
Anyway, there’s a whole lot more, but enough with these egregious comments and acts. I think the point has been made.
What to do?
Training is key … but in this case the top guy not only tolerated but also allegedly engaged in the harassing acts and behavior.
If the complaint is upheld and its allegations proven, perhaps the company will take anti-harassment training and enforcement seriously when it’s hit with a seven figure verdict.