Racial Slurs and Hostile Work Environment
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What Is a Hostile Work Environment?
Many people find their work environments to be stressful. However, being annoyed or uncomfortable at work is not enough to constitute a hostile work environment in the eyes of the law. There is a legal criteria that must be met in order to sue an employer for creating or maintaining a hostile work environment.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is used as the legal standard when considering whether a hostile work environment exists. Under the Act, it is illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of race, religion, and sex. This law has since been interpreted to mean that racial, religious, or sexual harassment in the workplace constitutes unlawful discrimination if it creates a “hostile work environment,” altering an employee’s working conditions, or making it difficult or impossible for the employee to do his or her job.
The Act also created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to monitor violations and take complaints. Generally, the following requirements must be met to make a case for a hostile work environment:
- The harassment must be both “severe” and “pervasive.” One offensive remark, or mere teasing, usually will not suffice. However, these 2 factors operate on a sliding scale: the more severe the harassment, the less pervasive it has to be, and the less severe, the more pervasive it must be.
- Discrimination must be against a protected class including age, religion, disability and race. Many states have recently added marital status, sexual orientation and gender identity.
- The harassment and discrimination is based on an “objective” standard. This means that a reasonable employer knew or should have known that the environment was hostile and failed to intervene. Employers can also be liable for directly creating the hostile environment.
Are Racial Slurs an Intolerable Part of Your Job?
As mentioned above, in most cases, one racial slur is not be enough to create a hostile work environment. Since one off-color remark is not viewed by the courts as a very severe form of harassment, racial slurs, without more, it would have to be a common and accepted occurrence in order to create a hostile work environment.
In order to create a hostile work environment, racial slurs must be so common, derogatory, and overt that they actually change the atmosphere of the workplace to one charged with racial hostility. However, even one racial slur should be documented, reported to the human resources department and could eventually be used as supplemental evidence that a person was fired, demoted or not promoted because of their race.
What Other Work Environment Issues Exist?
The most common employment law issues:
- Sexual Harassment
- Employment Contracts
- Wages and Overtime Pay
- Employment Discrimination
- Workplace Disputes
- Pensions and Benefits
- Wrongful Termination
Should I Seek Legal Advice?
If you believe you have been subjected to a hostile work environment, been the target of racial slurs or have concerns about any of the subjects listed above, you should contact an experienced employment law attorney to ensure your rights are protected. There can be complicated issues involving the types of evidence needed and varying legal standards. Whether it be filing a complaint with the EOCC or filing a lawsuit in civil court, an attorney will help you decide the best course of action
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Last Modified: 07-09-2014 04:58 PM PDT
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