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One Use of the N-Word Enough For Hostile Work Environment

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has held that using the word n***** alone is sufficiently egregious when directed towards an African-American woman to create a hostile work environment.
Brenda Smelter worked for Southern Home Care Services where she was the only black employee in her office. She admittedly had difficulty with her job duties and required additional support to do her work. Ms. Smelter has alleged that she was subjected to racist remarks from her co-workers on a repeated basis about black men, black women, President Obama and she was told that she looked like a “mixed monkey” from Planet of the Apes. Ms. Smelter did not complain to her supervisor about these comments until her last day of employment. On that day, an argument between her and a co-worker ended with the co-worker ordering her “to get out of my office…you dumb black n*****.” She reported the racist comments when asked about the argument. She was fired for yelling in the office and not meeting her employer’s expectations. Southern Home Care has denied that she reported the comments.
Ms. Smelter appealed the dismissal of her hostile work environment, wrongful termination and retaliation claim to the Eleventh Circuit. The court reversed only the dismissal of her hostile work environment claim, finding sufficient evidence that the work environment she alleged was both subjectively and objectively hostile. She alleged eight examples of specific comments and had stated that she heard such comments “every day.” The court found that the eight examples provided were enough to show the harassment was pervasive over her two months of employment and that the use of the word n***** met the standard for severe as a matter of law when aimed at a person in “an offensive or humiliating manner.”