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Racial Bias May Be Shown Through Prism of Custom and Historical Reference

Coates Electrical & Instrumentation hired James Allen Evans, a black man, as an apprentice electrician. Shortly after his hire, Mr. Evans was asked by his supervisor to retrieve something from the toolshed. However, when the project manager saw him, he wanted to know why Mr. Evans was in the shed. Mr. Evans explained. The project manager responded, “Boy, you work for me.” Mr. Evans asked that he not be referred to as “boy,” but the manager continued to use the term, becoming more angry and aggressive. When Mr. Evans let the manager know that he was going to make a complaint of race discrimination, the manager fired him. He said “Boy, take off that harness. You are out of here. You’re fired.”
Mr. Evans filed a lawsuit against Coates, claiming that the term “boy” was discriminatory as was his termination for objecting to the racial slur.
A federal district court in Utah focused on whether the word “boy” reflected racial animus such that a reasonable jury could conclude that Mr. Evan’s termination was discriminatory. In Ash v. Tyson Foods (2006), the U.S. Supreme Court held that “context, inflection, tone of voice, local custom, and historical usage” are to be considered in deciding whether the words used are racially charged. Mr. Evans provided evidence that the project manager was angry and aggressive when speaking to him. Coates argued that the term “boy” is not racist in Utah because it is a mostly white state and the term does not have a history of being derogatory there. The court rebuffed that argument. Mr. Evans had asked the project manager not to use the term, telling him it was racist, and still the manager continued to use it. Mr. Evan’s assertion that he was fired after mentioning that he was going to complain about racism may also reflect racial animus. The case will proceed to trial.