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Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals Holds Hostile Work Environment Can Be Created With A Single Racial Epithet

Despite consistent direction from the United States Supreme Court that courts should look at "all the circumstances" in determining whether a workplace environment is sufficiently hostile or abusive to give rise to an actionable claim of harassment, see, e.g., Faragher v. City of Boca Raton (1998), the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that a supervisor who called an African-American employee a "porch monkey" twice in a 24–hour period transformed the workplace into a racially hostile environment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII). The decision, Boyer-Liberto v. Fontainebleau Corporation (4th Cir. 2015), not only concludes that a hostile environment can be created by a single offensive utterance but also that an employee who reports such offensive speech to management is protected from retaliation so long as the employee reasonably believes the conduct was in violation of Title VII.

Why Would Employees Tease About Nooses In 2013?

It was surprising and disappointing to read about a punitive damages award against a North Carolina employer who allegedly tolerated employees referring to an African-American coworker as a “coon” and offering him a hangman’s noose. It’s 2013, not 1960.

Race-Based Comment Found Not To Be "Hostile".

A federal appellate court recently held that an employee who claimed he was subjected to 14 months of racially-motivated comments cannot succeed on his Title VII racial harassment claim. According to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, the case must be dismissed because the alleged behavior was not "severe and pervasive" and the employee failed to adequately pursue his complaint with his supervisors.
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