Racial Slurs in the Workplace

Legal Guidance in Atlanta on Employment Discrimination Matters

Many workplaces have some level of teasing among employees. Teasing may be acceptable, but racial slurs should not be. When racial slurs are unwelcome, and severe and pervasive enough to create a hostile, abusive, or intimidating work environment, they constitute race-based harassment. At Mays & Kerr, we have a thorough understanding of laws prohibiting race and other forms of employment discrimination. Our Atlanta attorneys can help you with a harassment issue, whether you are an employee or employer.

Racial Slurs in the Workplace

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on race by an employer with at least 15 employees. Race-based harassment is a type of racial discrimination, and it is a significant problem. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received 8,826 charges based on racial harassment in fiscal year 2014. In comparison, the EEOC received 6,862 charges of sexual harassment during the same period.

Title VII prohibits harassment when it is so severe or pervasive that it creates an abusive, intimidating, or hostile work environment. Harassment is also illegal when the employee’s continued employment is conditioned upon enduring it.

Racial slurs can be a type of racial harassment. Generally, a single incident of a racial slur will not be sufficiently severe or pervasive to rise to the level of prohibited harassment. Repeated use of slurs, or slurs in combination with other conduct, may create a hostile work environment.

Title VII does not prohibit teasing that does not rise to the level of prohibited harassment. In some cases, even repeated use of racial slurs may be insufficient to prove the existence of a hostile work environment. Courts will look at the totality of the circumstances in determining if the discriminatory conduct created a hostile work environment. Thus, other incidents of harassment may support the claim.

If there is harassment based on race, it does not matter what race either the victim or the person engaging in the harassing conduct is. A hostile work environment can arise even if the racial slurs come from a person of the same race as the victim. Victims sometimes have successfully pursued claims based on racial slurs by a supervisor of the same race. Furthermore, white employees have successfully pursued claims based on harassment by co-workers or supervisors of other races. Additionally, some white employees may have claims for harassment based on their association with non-white employees.

Liability of Employers

Employers are not always liable for the harassment of their employees. If the person committing the harassment is not in a supervisory role, the employer will only be liable if it knew or should have known of the offensive conduct and did not take corrective action to stop it.

If the harassment comes from a person in a supervisory role, the employer’s liability will depend on whether the harassment resulted in a negative employment action. If it did, the employer has strict liability. If it did not result in a negative employment action but led to a hostile work environment, the employer also is liable unless it can show that it used reasonable care to prevent and correct the harassment promptly and that the employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of those opportunities.

Victims of racial harassment in the workplace may be able to recover back pay, front pay, and compensatory and punitive damages. They may also be entitled to an injunction preventing the harassment. The remedies available to a particular claimant will depend on the facts of the case.

Consult an Atlanta Attorney for Your Racial Harassment Claim

The employment discrimination lawyers at Mays & Kerr understand the issues that Atlanta individuals and companies can face in this complex area. If you have a legal concern related to racial slurs in the workplace, call 1-877-986-5529 or contact us online.