Racially hostile work environment? Depends on which “n”-word.

Helene Tyrrell worked as a line chef at a jockey club in Arkansas during the Winter of 2010. She claimed that immediately after she started working, and pretty much throughout her employment, the n-word was bandied about like you and I would say “hello” and “goodbye.” However, only once was the “n”-word hurled in her direction.

But it wasn’t the n-word. No, that’s discriminatory.

Rather, according to the court in Tyrell v. Oaklawn Jockey Club, the “comment directed at Plaintiff and one other co-worker happened after the kitchen crew nearly mused getting breakfast out one Sunday. The comment, was according to Plaintiff, ‘I told you niggas we could get this done. I told you we could do this. Y’all my niggas.'”

And nigga, according to the State of Arkansas, is not a racist term.

So, although Ms. Tyrell claimed that the repeated use of “n”-words, whether in her presence or directed specifically at her, created a hostile work environment, the court was left scratching its proverbial head.

[T]he Court has trouble seeing how an objective person in the Plaintiff’s position would have found her co-workers’ jesting “extreme in nature.” By all appearances, the terms was not used derogatorily at all. It might have offended Plaintiff, but viewed objectively, the language was at most course [sic] jesting.

At least one other court has noted that a plaintiff may, in certain instances, regard “nigga,” as no different than the n-word. Wikipedia further notes (here) that “its use and meaning are heavily dependent on context.” So, I can’t help but feel that the Tyrell Court’s overwhelming confidence that a jury would condone the use of the word “nigga” is misplaced, and creates a very dangerous precedent, especially when the Court conceded that the Plaintiff, herself, was offended.

If you are a supervisor, manager, in Human Resources, or otherwise in a position to address complaints of discrimination in the workplace, please do not condone the use of either “n”-word. Maybe the “victim” is not offended by its use; but, maybe he/she is. Don’t second-guess it. Just make sure it doesn’t happen again.

(h/t Employment Discrimination Report)

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