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Employment Law Blog
James Tarquin, P.A
As part of our commitment to assist and educate employees in fighting back against the abusive employment practices of employers, we offer a broad range of information about employment law issues in our employment blog.

Are Workers Entitled To Quit After A Single Incident Of Racial Harassment Involving Racial Slurs?

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For more than two decades, our Citrus County, Florida racial discrimination lawyers have fought for the rights of Florida employees who have been required to work in a racially hostile work environment. Having represented racial harassment victims for more than twenty years, our Inverness, Florida racial discrimination attorneys know that employees subjected to racial slurs in the workplace often quit rather than continue working in unendurable conditions. When employees are compelled to resign because of racially abusive behavior in the workplace, they may have a claim for constructive discharge. A constructive discharge occurs when the employer, instead of directly terminating the employee, creates an intolerable work atmosphere that forces the employee to quit involuntarily.

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), racially harassing behavior that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create an abusive work environment is an unlawful discriminatory employment practice. Although courts universally acknowledge that racial slurs are a form of severe racial harassment, they disagree on whether the use of a racial slur on a single occasion or a single incident of racial harassment can be sufficiently severe to alter the victim’s conditions of employment and create an unlawful hostile work environment.

In this article, our Citrus County, Florida racial discrimination lawyers explain how the recent decision by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in Shamsuddi v. Classic Staffing Services, Case No. 19-3261 (E.D. Pa. Dec. 28, 2020) shows that a single incident of harassing conduct that involves the use of racial slurs can create a racial hostile work environment and justify an employee’s decision to quit in order to escape the abusive working environment.

Worker Subjected To Racial Slurs

In that case, Bashir Shamsuddi (Shamsuddi) brought an employment discrimination lawsuit against his former employer, Classic Staffing Services (Classic Staffing), pursuant to Title VII. Title VII protects employees from discrimination on the basis of race. Racial harassment is a form of race discrimination forbidden by Title VII. Shamsuddi claims that Classic Staffing violated Title VII by requiring him to work in a racially hostile work environment and by forcing him to involuntarily quit because of intolerable working conditions.

Shamsuddi, who is African-American, began working for Classic Staffing in 2014. Classic Staffing is a temporary employee staffing agency. Over time, Shamsuddi worked at several job sites to which he was assigned by Classic Staffing. A recruiter at Classic Staffing, Kalapos, was responsible for deciding whether to continue to assign jobs to Shamsuddi. In May 2016, Shamsuddi was assigned to and began working at Isabelle’s Kitchen. In late May 2016, Shamsuddi called out from work because he was moving. Kalapos then called Shamsuddi to find out why he was not at work, and left a voice mail message when Shamsuddi did not answer. After leaving her intended message, Kalapos did not hang up the phone and additional statements were recorded on Shamsuddi’s voice mail. In the voice mail message, Kalapos referred to Shamsuddi using the “n-word” on two occasions.

Shamsuddi quit after hearing the voice mail message. Shamsuddi testified that the voice mail message was a “slap in the face” and a “knee on his neck.” During the litigation, Kalapos admitted that the voice mail message was racist and that it was reasonable for an African-American employee to no longer want to work for Classic Staffing after hearing the voice mail.

Worker Quits Because Of Racial Slurs

Classic Staffing filed a motion with the trial court seeking dismissal of Shamsuddi’s racial harassment and constructive discharge claims. In doing so, Classic Staffing argued that a single incident of racial harassment was legally insufficient to create a racial hostile work environment harassment. Classic Staffing further argued that because Shamsuddi could not establish that he worked in a racial hostile work environment, Shamsuddi could not demonstrate that the was involuntarily compelled to quit in order to escape a racial hostile work environment. The trial court denied Classic Staffing’s motion for dismissal and ruled that Shamsuddi was entitled to bring his racial harassment and constructive discharge claims before a jury for resolution.

Turning to Shamsuddi’s racial harassment claim, the trial court observed that courts have determined that a single use of the “n-word,” depending on the circumstances, can create a racial hostile work environment. In applying this principle, the trial court ruled that it was for a jury to decide whether a single incident of harassment involving the use of racial slurs was sufficiently severe to alter the conditions of Shamsuddi’s employment and create a racial hostile work environment. Turning to Shamsuddi’s constructive discharge claim, the trial court pointed out that Kalapos admitted that she could understand why an African-American employee would not want to work for Classic Staffing after hearing the racial slurs. The trial court also observed that Classic Staffing did not have an anti-harassment policy, an employee handbook, or a procedure for reporting race discrimination. Consequently, the trial court noted, even if Shamsuddi had “wanted to suggest some alternative solution” other than resigning, “there was no clear means for doing so.” Based on these circumstances, the trial court concluded, “a reasonable jury could find” that Shamsuddi’s working conditions at Classic Staffing “became so intolerable that a reasonable person in [his] position would have felt compelled to resign.”

Inverness, FL Race Discrimination Lawyers

Based in Ocala, Florida and representing employees throughout Central Florida, our Citrus County, Florida racial discrimination attorneys have dedicated their practice to representing racial discrimination victims. If you have been subjected to racial discrimination at work or have questions about your rights as a victim of racial discrimination in the workplace, please contact our office for a free consultation with our Inverness, Florida racial discrimination lawyers. Our employment and labor law attorneys take racial discrimination cases cases on a contingency fee basis. This means that there are no attorney’s fees incurred unless there is a recovery and our attorney’s fees come solely from the monetary award that you recover.

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