Over the weekend, several news outlets ran this story about a white television news anchor in Mississippi who went viral for using one of rapper Snoop Dogg’s catchphrases, “Fo shizzle, my nizzle,” during a live broadcast. This unexpected comment appeared to stun the station’s meteorologist, who is black.
Just look at his face.
It’s not clear whether the white news anchor was disciplined or fired. But it got me wondering.
Could quoting Snoop Dogg be bad enough to create a racially hostile work environment?
Well, to establish a hostile work environment claim, a plaintiff must prove that (1) he belongs to a protected group; (2) he was subjected to unwelcome harassment; (3) the harassment complained of was based on race; (4) the harassment affected a term, condition, or privilege of employment; and (5) the employer knew or should have known of the harassment and failed to take prompt remedial action.
That fourth element is critical here. Racial harassment must be severe or pervasive to affect a term, condition, or privilege of employment.
I found one case where a plaintiff alleged that a coworker said “fo’ shizzle ma nizzle” on “a few occasions.” The plaintiff testified the coworker did not know the phrase’s meaning but that, after he told her, she used it once or twice more. So maybe, the coworkers said it a handful of times.
But was it enough to create a hostile work environment? The court didn’t think so.
Though the word “nizzle” is slang for a very offensive term, [Her] use of the word was, in context, merely offensive, as opposed to physically threatening or humiliating. And there is no evidence to suggest that [her] use of the phrase interfered with [the plaintiff’s] work performance.
But check out this other decision from another federal court. The plaintiff, who worked in a restaurant, claimed that her coworkers routinely said, “fa shizzle ma nizzle.” The court turned to Urban Dictionary to define the phrase, concluding it is slang for “for sure, my [n-word],” which means “I concur with you wholeheartedly, my African American brother.”
The plaintiff testified that she told her coworkers to stop quoting Snoop Dogg. However, many kept repeating it. She complained to her supervisor about it, but he allegedly responded, “I don’t know what to tell you. The Dave Chappelle Show has kind of made that okay to say that word now.”
The court concluded that “fa shizzle ma nizzle,” plus some other racially-derogatory language used at work, demonstrated a hostile work environment and survived the defendant’s motion for summary judgment.
So what have we learned about quoting Snoop Dogg at work? Your mileage may vary in court when defending the resulting hostile work environment claim. So, it’s best to avoid it altogether and not let your employees act like teenagers at a ’90s suburbia high school party.
Not that I would know anything about that. Or have a fantasy football team called “W Balls.”