Is A Harasser’s Intent Relevant In Determining Whether An Employee Was Racially Harassed?
For more than twenty years, our race discrimination lawyers in Citrus County, Florida have fought for the rights of racial discrimination victims. Through their decades of experience litigating race discrimination cases, our race discrimination attorneys in Inverness, Florida know that employers routinely defend racial harassment cases by arguing that employees did not intend to cause discriminatory harm or offense when using racial slurs in the workplace. Instead of acting with the intent to do harm, employers maintain that the employees possessed a benign or friendly intent when using racial slurs in the workplace. Having ascribed an ostensibly benign or friendly intent to their employees, employers then argue that the employees’ benign or friendly intent transforms the racial slurs into non-racial language and that such non-racial language cannot create a racial hostile working environment. In other words, employers contend that because their employees ostensibly had a benign or friendly intent when using racial slurs, the racial slurs were not really racial slurs and, thus, were not a form of racial harassment. To accept this employer argument (which remarkably some employer-friendly courts have), means that employees subjected to racial slurs cannot prove a racial harassment claim when a racial harasser asserts that the racial slurs were used with a benign or friendly intent.
In this article, our race discrimination lawyers in Citrus County, Florida explain how the decision in Ellis v. Hobbs Police Department,Case No. 17-01011 (D. N.M. Jan. 25, 2021) demonstrates that when an employee uses racial slurs in the workplace, the employee’s intent is irrelevant in determining whether the racial slurs created a racial hostile work environment.
Protection From Racial Harassment
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of race. In interpreting the scope of Title VII’s prohibition against racial discrimination, courts have consistently ruled that racial harassment is a form of race discrimination forbidden by Title VII. To violate Title VII, racial harassment must be sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create a hostile working environment. When an employer knows or should know of racial harassment in the workplace, Title VII imposes a remedial obligation on the employer. Title VII requires the employer to take prompt and effective remedial action to stop the racial harassment and prevent the racial harassment from recurring. When an employer takes no action to stop the racial harassment, or the action taken does not prevent the racial harassment from recurring, the employer is liable under Title VII for creating and maintaining a racial hostile work environment.
Racial Harassment Lawsuit
In Ellis, a man Ellis brought a race discrimination claim against his former employer, the Hobbs Police Department (HPD), pursuant to Title VII. Ellis, who is African-American, claims that he was required to work in a racially hostile work environment in violation of Title VII.
Ellis was employed by the HPD as a police officer. Ellis alleges that heard a white police officer, Officer B, using racial slurs in the workplace. The Deputy Chief did not consider Officer B’s use of racial slurs to be derogatory. Officer B was never formally reprimanded for suing racial slurs. Ultimately, the racial slurs were reported to the City Manager. The City Manager told the Chief of Police to investigate and to find out what happened and to direct a change of action. The City Manager, however, did not follow up to see whether Officer B was disciplined or whether anything was done to prevent it from happening again.
The HPD filed a motion with the trial court seeking dismissal of Ellis’ claim that he was racially harassed in violation of Title VII. The trial court denied HPD’s motion for dismissal and ruled that a reasonable jury could find that Ellis worked in a racially hostile environment in violation of Title VII. Consequently, the trial court determined that Ellis was entitled to proceed to a jury trial on his racial hostile work environment claim.
Before the jury trial commenced, Ellis filed a motion with the trial court seeking to prevent the HPD from arguing or presenting evidence to the jury that Officer B did not intend the use of racial slurs to be harmful and instead viewed the use of racial slurs as “friendly term[s].” In opposing the motion, the HPD argued that Officer B allegedly had a benign intent when using racial slurs and his allegedly benign intent was relevant to show that the harassment was not racial in nature and lacked racial animus.
Harasser’s Intent Is Irrelevant
The trial court granted Ellis’ motion and determined that an employee’s intent when using racial slurs is irrelevant to whether the racial slurs created a racially hostile working environment. The trial court explained in determining whether a racial hostile work environment existed, “the inquiry should not be based on whether an alleged harasser possessed the motivation or intent to cause discriminatory harm or offense.” Rather, the trial court pointed out, the “jury has a duty to assess the polluting effect on the workplace environment on the alleged harasser’s conduct.” Thus, the ”important question” in a racial harassment case, the trial court observed, was whether the racial slurs “had the effect of contributing to the creation of a racially hostile work environment.”
Consequently, the trial court found that Officer B’s ostensibly benign or friendly intent when using racial slurs was irrelevant in determining whether Ellis was racially harassed in violation of Title VII.
The trial court also rejected the HPD’s argument that it was entitled to introduce evidence that Officer B did not use racial slurs “with racial animus.” “[R]acial animus,” the trial court pointed out, “is not required for a hostile working environment claim.” Even if racial animus was required, the trial court explained that racial slurs are “undeniably racial” and Officer B’s “alleged benign or friendly intent” when using racial slurs does not transform them into “non-racial word[s].” The fact that Officer B did not believe that the racial slurs were racial in nature, the trial court also pointed out, “does not bear on whether a reasonable African-American” would view the racial slurs as racial terms. Thus, the trial court concluded that Officer B’s “benign intent” was “irrelevant” to whether his racial slurs are in fact “racial word[s].”
Citrus County Race Discrimination Lawyers
Based in Ocala, Florida, and representing employees throughout Florida, our race discrimination attorneys in Citrus County, Florida have dedicated their practice to fighting for the rights of racial discrimination victims. If you have experienced racial harassment in the workplace or have questions about your protection from racial harassment under federal employment discrimination law, please contact our office for a free consultation with our race discrimination lawyers in Citrus County, Florida. Our employee rights law firm takes racial discrimination 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.