Is it racist to falsely accuse someone of being a racist?


Let’s explore whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees against accusations of racism.

The inspiration for today’s post comes from a recent Georgia federal court decision. The plaintiff in this case, a white woman, claimed that the defendant had falsely accused her of calling a black coworker the n-word.

The plaintiff claimed to have the receipts to disprove the accusations. Specifically, she alleged in her complaint that she recorded the conversation where she was accused of using the racial slur. But the slur was not on the recording, and she denied saying it. Nonetheless, after the incident was reported to the defendant, the defendant forbade her from interacting with the black coworker and suspended the plaintiff for seven days. Part of the defendant’s justification for the suspension was the plaintiff’s use of the n-word, which she had denied using.

Are you with me so far?


So, assuming the plaintiff never used the n-word, did her subsequent suspension violate Title VII? Or, more specifically, does Title VII protect employees against accusations of racism?

The plaintiff argued that the defendant subjected her to disparate treatment based on her race because the defendant falsely accused her of using a racial slur “that, when used by a Caucasian toward an African-American, carries a greater weight and offensiveness than if used by any other racial group.”

This was not the first time a plaintiff raised this argument in a federal court. Several other courts around this country have held that “for claims of race discrimination under Title VII, allegations that an adverse action was taken against an employee because he was falsely accused of being racist, rather than because of the employee’s own race, do not suffice to constitute race discrimination.” Another court concluded that “to hold that Title VII shields employees from being perceived as racist or from being accused of racist conduct would turn Title VII on its head and impede employers in the critical work of combatting racism in the workplace.”

Put another way, accusations of racist behavior — even false ones that may themselves be morally wrong — do not equate with racist behavior itself.

Therefore, if an employer disciplines an employee for racist behavior, even if the accusations are unfounded, that employee cannot claim race discrimination based on that accusation and discipline unless that employee can demonstrate that the company treated a similarly situated employee outside of their protected class more favorably under similar circumstances.

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