New York jury says it’s not okay for black people to use the N word at work



A New York jury ruled Tuesday that the N word is off limits in the workplace, even when it’s being used by one black person to another.  The case could set interesting precedent in the area of employment discrimination and curb the social use of the N word between black people while they are at work.

The jury found that the term is impermissible and creates a hostile work environment.  The jury rejected the N word double standard that black people have reappropriated the term and can say it as a term of endearment to one another but white people cannot use the term.  Why anyone who is not black would want the right to use the term is beyond me, but I suppose that’s a blog for a different day.

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This case has the ability to set some legal precedent since the plaintiff, a black woman named Brandi Johnson, sued her employer STRIVE East Harlem, after her boss Rob Carmona, a black man, used the racial slur while reprimanding her.  Carmona, a black man of Puerto Rican descent, argued in his defense that being raised in a New York City project, was full of “tough love” and “tough language” which includes using the n-word as a term of endearment.

The issue in the case is whether the n-word double standard applies to employment discrimination cases. Specifically, whether it matters that the n-word is commonly used by black people in a cultural context, makes it permissible in an employment context when two black people are involved.

This age-old debate over who is allowed to use the n-word and who cannot is one that a federal jury decided this week and the decision may set new societal norms for appropriate language in the workplace, regardless of whether the people using the term are black.  “There are numerous cases where employers who have repeatedly used racial slurs have been found to have created hostile work environments for employees.”

The case touches upon so many different questions of culture, class, and respectability.  Not to mention it adds fuel to the ongoing debate over whether the N word is ever okay to say, and if so, by whom.  Right on the heels of Paula Deen saying she is just an old lady from Georgia who doesn’t know any better, a New York jury says, hold up and quit it folks.  So if you are a frequent user of the N word in conversation at work, you might wanna self-police your language before your co-worker slaps you with an employment discrimination suit.

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  • Jennifer Franzese

    I’d like to know if we can please make the F word and any other derogatory, curse, or insulting words illegal?!?! This makes me happy! I’m glad that this woman was brave enough to file this lawsuit as well as smart enough to know that her boss was not using that word as a form of endearment! What a joke. The cursing that goes on in my office every day makes my job almost unbearable. It is extremely vulgar and offensive. I work in an office filled with woman. Most with families with children at home and they blurt out those words like it’s nothing. I am a mother of 3 small children and it offends me greatly to hear one common phrase a co-worker uses in my office of “F*** YOUR MOTHER!” at whatever email she received that upset her. Unprofessional, HR nightmare, offensive!

    • honeybee

      That’s a pretty slippery slope to go down. If the words are directed at you absolutely you have cause to report the person and ask it to stop. But otherwise I don’t think you have any recourse. The last thing we need is more people butting in and policing the language and behaviours of others who aren’t impacting them (eg: forget about talking about “womens issues” like menstruation in public if your type of rule became accepted)

  • honeybee

    I’ve never understood the argument that one race/gender/religion, etc. can say something but others cannot. Not only does it send mixed messages to on one hand condemn something while using it yourself, but it emphasizes differences between races, genders, religions, etc. and puts them on different playing fields when I prefer that everyone, regardless of who they are, be treated exactly the same. The last thing we need is more segregation and creating separate rules does exactly that IMO.