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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.

Supreme Court Declines To Decide Whether A Single Racial Slur Creates A Racial Hostile Work Environment

Rude white partner telling black businessman get out his office

For more than twenty years, our Homosassa, Florida racial discrimination attorneys have represented racial discrimination victims. Through their extensive experience representing racial discrimination victims, our Citrus County, Florida racial discrimination lawyers know that employees continued to be subjected egregious racially abusive behavior in the workplace, including racial slurs, racial code words, racial graffiti, and physically intimidating conduct.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) protects employees from racial discrimination in the workplace. Under long established law, racial harassment is a form of racial discrimination prohibited by Title VII. Racially harassing behavior that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create a hostile or abusive working environment violates Title VII. Title VII also requires employers to protect employees from racial harassment at work. When an employer knows or should know that an employee is being racially harassed in the workplace, the employer is obligated to take prompt and effective remedial action to stop the racial harassment and prevent recurrence of the racial harassment.

Racial Slur Creates Hostile Work Environment

An issue that has been frequently litigated in the racial harassment context is whether the use of a racial slur by a supervisor on a single occasion can create a racial hostile working environment. In addressing this issue, some U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal have determined that the use of a racial slur by a supervisor on a single occasion is sufficiently severe to create a racial hostile working environment. As the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Rodgers v. Western-Southern Life Ins. Co., 12 F.3d 668 (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[.]” In Collier v. Dallas County Hospital District, Case No. 19-10761 (5th Cir. Sep. 30, 2020), however, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the line of decisions holding that the use of a racial slur on a single occasion is sufficiently severe to create a racial hostile work environment.

Worker Claims Racial Harassment

In Collier, Robert Collier (Collier), who is African-American, brought a racial harassment claim against his former employer, Dallas County’s Parkland Health and Hospital System (Parkland), pursuant to Title VII. Collier contends that Parkland violated Title VII by requiring him to work in a racial hostile work environment. Collier identified three main facts to support his claim that he worked in a racial hostile work environment: (1) a nurse called him “boy”; (2) a racial epithet was scratched into an elevator, and Parkland failed to remove it for months despite his complaints; and (3) two swastikas were drawn on the walls of a room that he worked in, and Parkland waited eighteen months to paint them over despite his complaints.

The trial court dismissed Collier’s racial hostile work environment claim. On appeal, the Fifth Circuit found that the incidents of racial harassment were not sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a racial hostile work environment and upheld the trial court’s dismissal. In reaching its conlusion, the Fifth Circuit noted that “other courts of appeal have found instances where the use of the N-word itself was sufficient to create a hostile work environment.” However, the Fifth Circuit determined that the two instances of racial graffiti and being called “boy” were “insufficient to establish a [racial] hostile work environment under [Fifth Circuit] precedent.”

Supreme Court Declines Case

Collier appealed the dismissal of his racial hostile work environment claim to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court, however, declined to take the case without any explanation. Because the U.S. Supreme Court declined to decide whether the use of a racial slur by a supervisor on a single occasion can create a racial hostile work environment, the issue is controlled by the rulings of the federal appellate courts. The U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals is the federal court with appellate jurisdiction over the federal courts in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia. Federal courts in Florida are bound by the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court and the Eleventh Circuit.

Florida Employees Protected From Single Racial Slur

In Adams v. Austal, U.S.A., LLC, 754 F.3d 1240 (11th Cir. 2014), the Eleventh Circuit determined that the use of a racial slur by a supervisor on a single occasion, although “an isolated act,” was “severe” enough that a “reasonable jury could find that the [employee’s] work environment was objectively hostile.” Under Eleventh Circuit precedent therefore, the use of a racial slur by a supervisor on a single occasion can create a racial hostile work environment in violation Title VII. Consequently, federal law protects Florida employees from a supervisor’s single use of a racial slur.

Homosassa, FL Discrimination Attorneys

Based in Ocala, Florida and representing employees throughout Central Florida, our Citrus County, Florida racial discrimination lawyers have dedicated their practice to fighting for the rights of racial discrimination victims. If you have been required to work in a racially hostile work environment or have questions about your rights as a racial discrimination under the federal anti-discrimination laws, please contact our office for a free consultation with our Homosassa, Florida racial discrimination attorneys. Our employment and labor law attorneys take 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.

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