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Helping Victims Of Workplace Harassment Or Abuse
The Employee's Voice And Advocate

Racial Harassment Lawyers Serving Central Florida, Including Citrus, Marion & Alachua Counties

With Ocala Based Racial Harassment Lawyers Serving Central Florida

Q: Am I protected from racial harassment at work by federal and Florida law?

A: Yes. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the federal law which protects employees against racial harassment in the workplace. The Florida Civil Rights Act is the Florida law which protects employees from racial harassment in the workplace.

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Q: Is racial harassment a form of race discrimination?

A: Yes. Courts have long recognized that racial harassment is a form of race discrimination. When an employee is subjected to racially abusive conduct, the employee is being discriminated against on the basis of race. An employer is liable for race discrimination if it tolerates a racially hostile work environment.

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Q: What is the definition of racial harassment?

A: Because the type of conduct which constitutes racial harassment can take a variety of forms, there is no single definition of racial harassment. Rather than attempting to define racial harassment, courts generally focus on whether the behavior is racial in nature and, thus, is an act or form of racial harassment. The type of conduct which constitutes an act or form of racial harassment includes: racial jokes; racial slurs or racial epithets; remarks reflecting racial stereotypes; racially derogatory drawings or pictures; racial graffiti; intimidating behavior; threats of physical harm; physical abuse, violence, or attack; racial segregation in the workplace; and any other abusive behavior, whether verbal or physical, that is motivated by the victim’s race.

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Q: What is hostile work environment racial harassment?

A: In order to be unlawful, racial harassment must be sufficiently severe or pervasive as to alter the terms and conditions of the victim’s employment and create a hostile or abusive work environment. To hold an employer liable for racial harassment, the harassment need not be severe and pervasive because one or the other will do. Racially abusive conduct is considered severe when it involves racial slurs or physical abuse. Racially abusive conduct is considered pervasive when it is on-going or persistent.

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Q: Does the harasser’s racially derogatory language have to be about me to create a racial hostile work environment?

A: No. The racially harassing behavior does not have to be about you to create racial hostile work environment. For example, the harasser does not have to make racial jokes about you, use racially derogator language towards you, or direct racial slurs at you. Any conduct that is racially derogatory in nature that occurs in your presence is part of your work environment and can create a racial hostile work environment.

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Q: Is behavior that is not explicitly racial in nature part of my hostile work environment?

A: Yes. As explained by the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in Watson v. Ceva Logistics, U.S., Inc., 619 F.3d 936 (8th Cir. 2010), “all instances of harassment need not be stamped with signs of overt discrimination if they are part of a course of conduct tied to evidence of discriminatory animus.” Courts have determined that an employee may rely on facially neutral conduct to bolster a racial harassment claim when the harasser engaged in multiple acts of harassment, some explicitly based on race and some not. However, there must be a factual basis for inferring that the race-neutral incidents of harassment were motivated by race. For example, when the harasser engages in overtly racial acts of harassment, such as racial slurs, racial jokes, or racially derogatory language, such evidence serves to establish that the race-neutral incidents of harassment were, in fact, racially motivated and part of a pattern of racial harassment.

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Q: Am I protected from racial harassment by a customer or client?

A: Yes. Employees are protected against racial harassment from third-parties, including customers, clients, contractor, and consultants. When an employer knows or should know that a third-party is subjecting an employee to racially abusive conduct, the employer is obligated to take prompt and effective corrective action to prevent the racial harassment from continuing.

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Q: Can a single racial slur create a racial hostile work environment?

A: Courts have determined that a single isolated incident of harassment, if extremely serious, can create a hostile work environment. As explained by the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Rodgers v. Western-Southern Life Ins. Co., 12 F.3d 778 (7th Cir. 1993), “[p]erhaps 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 . . . by a supervisor in the presence of his subordinates.” Despite acknowledging that the use of a racial slur is an extreme act of discrimination, the majority of courts to squarely address the issue have ruled that a co-employee’s or supervisor’s single use of a racial slur generally is not sufficiently severe to create a racial hostile work environment. However, several courts have recently ruled that a supervisor’s single use of a racial slur may be sufficiently severe to create a racial hostile work environment. In doing so, these courts have emphasized that whether a hostile work environment was created is determined on a case-by-case basis after considering the totality of the circumstances.

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Q: Must the racially abusive conduct be so egregious that it causes psychological injury?

A: No. In Harris v. Forklift Sys., Inc., 510 U.S. 17 (1993), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that discriminatory harassment does not have to “seriously affect an employee’s psychological well-being” in order to create a hostile work environment. The Harris Court reasoned that because a “discriminatorily abusive work environment, even one that does not seriously affect employees’ psychological well-being, can and often will detract from employees’ job performance, discourage employees from remaining on the job, or keep them from advancing in their careers.” Under such circumstances, the racially abusive conduct alters the terms, conditions, or privileges of the victim’s employment even if it does not cause psychological injury.

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Q: Can racial harassment occur when the victim and harasser are of the same race?

A: Yes. Courts have determined that an employee can be racially harassed by an employee who is a member of the same race. For example, in Ross v. Douglas County, 234 F.3d 391 (8th Cir. 2000), the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a jury verdict in favor of an African-American employee whose African-American supervisor subjected him to racial slurs. The Ross court explained that such comments “could have been made to please [the supervisor’s] white superior or they may have been intended to create a negative and distressing environment for [the victim].” “Whatever the motive,” the court of appeals concluded, “we deem such conduct discriminatory.”

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Q: Are employers required to protect me from racial harassment at work?

A: Yes. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Florida Civil Rights Act mandate that employers provide employees with a work environment free of racial harassment. As explained by the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in Carter v. Chrysler Corp., 173 F.3d 693 (8th Cir. 1999), “employees are entitled to a workplace free from discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult motivated by the employees’ [race].” When an employee is subjected to racially abusive conduct that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile work environment, the employer can be held liable for the racial harassment that the employee endured.

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Q: Does each incident of racial harassment have to be severe or pervasive enough to create a racial hostile work environment?

A: No. Whether you endured a racial hostile work environment can only be determined by looking at all the circumstances. Under the totality of the circumstances approach, courts must evaluate your work environment as a whole and must consider the incidents of racial harassment cumulatively. The totality of the circumstances approach means that courts cannot carve up the individual acts of racial harassment and determine whether each act of racial harassment, by itself, was sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile work environment.

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Q: Are incidents of racial harassment directed at another employee or customer part of my hostile work environment?

A: Yes. Because courts use a totality of the circumstances approach in determining whether the racial harassment was sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile work environment, incidents of racial harassment directed at you and incidents of racial harassment directed at other employees or customers are part of your work environment. This means that incidents of racial harassment directed at other employees or customers contribute to the overall hostility of your work environment and can be used to establish that you worked in a racial hostile work environment.

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Q: Do I have to be the direct target of racial harassment to bring a racial hostile work environment lawsuit?

A: No. It is not necessary that you were the direct target of racially abusive conduct in order to bring a lawsuit for racial harassment. In some circumstances, you can prove that you worked in a racial hostile work environment by showing severe or pervasive incidents of racial harassment directed at other employees or customers, even if you were not individually singled out for the racially abusive behavior. In other words, even if you were not the direct target of incidents of racial harassment, racially abusive conduct directed at other employees or customers can give rise to a viable racial hostile work environment harassment claim. However, courts generally require a showing that you were present when the incidents of racial harassment towards other employees or customers occurred in order to establish that you worked in a racial hostile work environment.

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Q: How do I let the employer know that I regard the racially abusive conduct as unwanted or unwelcome?

A: In order to prove a racial harassment case, you must establish that the racially harassing behavior was unwelcome. As explained by the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in Bales v. Wall-Mart Stores, Inc., 143 F.3d 1103 (8th Cir. 1998), the conduct must be unwelcome “in the sense that the employee regarded the conduct as undesirable or offensive.” Generally, when an employee is subjected to racially harassing behavior, the conduct is presumed to be unwelcome. Nonetheless, complaining to management about the racially abusive conduct establishes that you regarded the behavior as unwanted or offensive.

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Q: Is an employer required to stop racial harassment towards me?

A: Yes. Once an employer knows or should know about racially harassing behavior towards you, the employer is obligated to take prompt and effective remedial action that is reasonably calculated to end the harassment and prevent the harassment from recurring. When the employer takes no remedial action, or when the remedial action does not end the harassment, the employer becomes liable for the past harassment and any future harassment.

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Q: How does the employer receive notice that I am being racially harassed?

A: In most circumstances, an employer receives notice that an employee is being racially harassed through a complaint from the victim. However, an employer can also receive notice of the racial harassment from an employee who complains on behalf of the victim or an employee who reports the racial harassment. Courts have even determined that an employer can receive notice of the racial harassment from a third-party, such as a member of the victim’s family.

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Q: What information should I include in a complaint of racial harassment?

A: When you make a complaint of racial harassment, it is important that you provide the employer with enough information about the racially abusive conduct to reasonably notify the employer that the complaint you are making is a racial harassment complaint. If the complaint does not provide enough information about the racially abusive conduct to notify the employer that you are, in fact, making a racial harassment complaint, the employer’s duty to take prompt and effective remedial action to prevent the harassment from continuing is not triggered. When complaining about racially abusive conduct, you should try to be as specific as possible when describing the incidents of racial harassment. For example, if the harasser is using racial slurs or making racial jokes, you should inform the employer that you are being subjected to racial slurs or racial jokes, and specifically identify the racial slurs or racial jokes that you have endured.

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Q: Why can it be important to make a complaint of racial harassment?

A: Distilled to its essence, making a complaint of racial harassment can be important for two reasons. First, once you complain about racial harassment, the employer’s remedial obligation is triggered because the employer now knows about the racial harassment. Because the employer has knowledge of the racial harassment, the employer must take adequate remedial measures in order to avoid liability for the harassment. Second, employees are protected from retaliation when they complain about perceived race discrimination in the workplace, including racial harassment. If you complain about the harasser’s behavior, but do not notify the employer that you believe the behavior is racially motivated or racial in nature, there is no legal protection against retaliation. Because your protected from retaliation is linked to having complained about race discrimination, employers invariably deny that the employee, in fact, complained about race discrimination so they can argue that the employee’s legal protection against retaliation was never triggered.

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Q: Is the employer required to investigate my complaint of racial harassment?

A: Generally, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act does not prohibit employers from using an employee’s compensation or salary as a basis for employment decisions. However, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act mandates that the employer’s use of an employee’s compensation must be wholly independent from age and age stereotyping. For example, if an employer terminates an employee with the explanation that it needs someone younger who it can pay less, the decision is not wholly independent of age because the employee’s compensation is not divorced from age. In other words, the employer is using the employee’s compensation as a proxy for age in order to discriminate against the employee.

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Q: Must an employer interview my witnesses as part of its investigation?

A: No. An employer is not legally required to interview your witnesses. However, the employer’s failure to interview your witnesses is evidence that the employer’s investigation was inadequate because it reflects bad faith, improper bias, or an investigation designed to reach a per-determined conclusion. Consequently, an employer’s failure to interview your witnesses may be used as a basis for holding the employer liable for the racial harassment. Indeed, an employer’s failure to interview your witnesses reflects that the employer is far more concerned with defending itself against a potential lawsuit rather than ending the harassment and deterring future harassment.

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Q: Does it matter that the harasser also harassed another employee in the past?

A: Evidence that the individual who subjected you to racially abusive conduct also subjected another employee to racially abusive conduct in the past has significant evidentiary value because it shows that the employer did not exercise reasonable care to prevent racially harassing behavior in the workplace. Once an employer knows or should know of the harasser’s racially abusive conduct, the employer is required to take prompt and effective remedial action to end the harassment and deter future harassment. When the harasser subjected another employee to racial harassment in the past, this shows that the employer did not take adequate corrective action to remedy the harassment that had already occurred and to deter future harassment—against the same victim or other employees. The employer’s failure to take effective remedial action to end the harassment and to deter future harassment is a basis for holding the employer liable for the harasser’s subsequent racially harassing behavior towards you. In short, whatever remedial action the employer took in response to the harasser’s racial harassment of another employee in the past did not work because the harasser subsequently harassed you.

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Q: Am I protected from retaliation for complaining about racial harassment?

A: Yes. Employees are protected against retaliation when they complain about perceived racially harassing behavior in the workplace—regardless of whether their complaint is about racially harassing behavior directed towards them or towards another employee. In other words, employees cannot be retaliated against because they complained about racial harassment they endured or racial harassment another employee endured.

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Q: Do I have to prove that I worked in a racial hostile work environment to be protected from retaliation?

A: No. To be protected against retaliation for complaining about perceived racially harassing behavior, courts do not require the employee to prove that the harassment was sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile work environment. Instead, an employee only has to show that he or she had a good faith, reasonable belief that the harassing behavior was racially motivated and was sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile work environment.

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Q: Do You Have More Questions Or Believe You Have A Case?

A: If you have more questions or believe that you have a racial harassment case, please contact our office to speak with an employment lawyer. You will never have to pay to speak with an employment law attorney here. We can help you take action to protect and vindicate your employee rights. We take racial harassment 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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