Racial Slurs and Hostile Work Environment

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 What Are Race And Nationality Discrimination?

Discrimination laws in the United States are intended to clarify the ambiguity between what is and is not considered discrimination in the workplace. Because many forms of discrimination exist in the workplace, employers and employees must understand what constitutes an unlawful action before filing a lawsuit or speaking with an employment attorney.

One specific type of discrimination under federal and state laws would be racial discrimination. Racial discrimination occurs when an employer treats an employee or applicant unfavorably simply because of their race. An example of this would be how if you belong to a certain race, and an employer did not hire you only because of your race and not because you were not qualified for the job, the employer may be found guilty of race discrimination. This is because employers cannot discriminate against employees or applicants based on race.

This discrimination occurs when an applicant or employee is treated less favorably than others because they may have certain physical characteristics that identify their race. The most common example of this would be the color of their skin. Some technical terms that are used to describe this type of discrimination are colorism and pigmentocracy.

Nationality discrimination in the United States is defined as the unequal or negative treatment of individuals based on their place of birth or country of origin. This can include issues such as treating employees unfavorably because they come from a certain country and speak with a non-American accent.

Nationality discrimination is similar to race and ethnic discrimination in that it discriminates against a certain group of people who share some common traits with foreign-born people, even when the person experiencing the discrimination was born in the US.

Those who are hurt most by these types of discriminatory practices are non-native workers who are:

  • Denied jobs or earnings;
  • Forced into lower-paid positions;
  • Passed over for promotions; or
  • Required to meet different standards than U.S.-born applicants.

To further clarify the difference between race and nationality discrimination, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) defines race as a person’s “biological, ethnic, cultural, or linguistic characteristics.” National origin refers to whether a person was born in another country or had parents who were born in another country.

It is important to note that under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, employers are legally prohibited from discriminating against employees based on their national origin and race. Employees may also file discrimination complaints based on an employer’s treatment of workers who resemble people of foreign countries because they are “perceived” as sharing protected characteristics such as race.

What Is A Hostile Work Environment?

What would constitute a hostile work environment in a legal context involves meeting specific criteria to sue an employer for creating and maintaining a hostile work environment. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the legal standard when considering whether a hostile work environment exists. To retierate, under the Act, it is illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of race, religion, or sex among, other characteristics.

Racial, religious, or sexual harassment in the workplace constitutes unlawful discrimination if the issue creates a hostile work environment by altering an employee’s working conditions or making it difficult or impossible for the employee to do their job.

The Act also created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) to monitor violations and take complaints, as was previously mentioned. Generally speaking, 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 teasing will not generally constitute sufficient grounds. However, these 2 factors operate on a sliding scale. What this means is that the more severe the harassment, the less pervasive it must be; and the less severe, the more pervasive it must be;
  • Discrimination must be against a protected class. Protected classes include age, religion, disability, and race. Additionally, many states have recently added marital status, sexual orientation, and gender identity to their list of protected classes; and
  • The harassment and discrimination must be based on an “objective” standard. This means that a reasonable employer knew or should have known that the environment was hostile yet failed to intervene.
  • Employers can also be liable for directly creating a hostile environment.

Can Racial Slurs Constitute A Hostile Work Environment?

Racial slur or harassment is unwelcome verbal or physical conduct toward another person based on their race or national origin. Racist jokes are considered racial slurs and harassment in an employment law context.

Racial slurs in the workplace are considered to be illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Courts have determined that even one instance of racial slur can be enough to create a hostile work environment.

It is unlawful to harass another person because of their race or color in the workplace. This type of harassment commonly includes, but may not be limited to, racial slurs and offensive or derogatory remarks about a person’s race or skin color. The harasser can be:

  • The victim’s supervisor;
  • A supervisor in another area;
  • A co-worker; or
  • A client or customer.

To reiterate, courts have determined that even one instance of racial slur can be enough to constitute a hostile work environment. Some of the most common factors that have been used in determining whether a working environment is hostile include:

  • The actions or behavior discriminate against a Title VII protected classification, such as race, sex or gender, religion, disability, or age;
  • It is offensive and continual and is not swiftly investigated and addressed by the company;
  • The acts were severe enough to interfere with the employee’s work or interfere with the employee’s career ladder progression;
  • The employer was aware of what was going on yet did not take action to stop the behavior; and
  • The victim believed or was told they must tolerate the behavior to remain employed.

What Should Employers Do In Order To Prevent Racial Slurs And Hostile Work Environment?

Employers should take the following steps to train employees against using any derogatory or racial slurs in the workplace:

  • Clearly communicate, especially through employee handbook policies, that discrimination and racial harassment will not be tolerated;
  • Ensure that everyone has a copy of the handbook;
  • Immediately investigate any complaints of racial discrimination and harassment;
  • Take immediate action when doing remedial measures to correct any issues that involve racial slurs and discrimination; and
  • Continually train all supervisors and employees regarding discrimination and harassment prevention. This is continual, evolving work that must frequently occur to eliminate the issue and ensure a safe workplace for those most likely to experience the hostile work environment.

Do I Need A Lawyer For Help With Racial Slurs And A Hostile Work Environment?

If you have been subjected to a hostile work environment, contact an experienced discrimination lawyer in your area immediately to ensure your rights are protected. Your discrimination attorney can help you understand your legal rights and options according to your state’s specific discrimination laws.

An attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed, should the issue require legal action. Workplace laws can be complex, but an attorney can provide you with the assistance you need for your specific claim.


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