It is not typical that a single racial epithet used by a supervisor toward a worker is enough to establish a hostile work environment under federal labor law; however, the (liberal) U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit recently disagreed.

In the case of Daniel v T&M Prot. Res., it was alleged that a supervisor of the building referred to his employee as a “F****** N*****” according to court records. The lower court did not find that one time use of the offensive slur enough to establish a racial harassment claim. However, the Appeals Court reversed the lower court and sent it back to the lower court to conduct further proceedings.

Does this mean that every time a supervisor uses a bad phrase or slur the company is doomed? Not necessarily. In this particular case, it was clear that the plaintiff who was African American and gay, was subjected to same sex sexual harassment as well. Also, there was evidence of at least 20 separate incidents of various types of harassment during the year and a half he worked for the employer, as well as some physical harassment. Given this pervasive bad behavior, it really is not just a new standard being established by the federal courts of a one-time N-word slur, but the company better clean up its act, and sound supervisor training is a must!