Jury Decides – Use of N-Word is Unacceptable in the Workplace

By Tom McKinney
NJ Employment Attorney

The verdict is in as a jury has answered the often-debated issue of whether or not the use of the N-word is acceptable. The short answer is no. At least not in the workplace.

Many New Jersey residents first heard about this issue from the much-publicized Johnson vs. Carmona and STRIVE case earlier this month. Brandi Johnson brought a four-minute long recorded tirade of her boss, Rob Carmona, to court to play for the jury. Carmona, manager and founder of the STRIVE employment training program, was found guilty of workplace discrimination and operating a hostile work environment.

In the recording, Carmona loudly berated Johnson and repeatedly used the N-word toward her, bringing what had previously been a social discussion into a legal battle on the federal stage.

Carmona’s lawyers argued that he, as a black man himself, used the N-word with a different connotation. His tirade was meant as tough love, but was never intended as discriminatory. Like many others who have argued this point, his legal team tried to show that the N-word can be used as a term of friendship or love when used between members of the same race.

Johnson and her lawyer claimed that the slur was not received as anything other than hostile and discriminatory, regardless of the race of the person using it. Jurors ruled with Johnson and awarded her $30,000 in punitive damages as well as $250,000 in compensatory damages.

This decision brought the discussion into the open where people have asked, “Is there any context where use of the N-word is okay?” Previously, many have thought the N-word was acceptable among friends, or between members of the same race, or in other social contexts. This case now addresses the fact that the N-word, despite its intentions, has the power to hurt, no matter how it is delivered. Therefore, no one, whether white, black, Hispanic, male or female, should use the N-word at all.

While this case may continue to be debated socially, a legal precedent has now been set. When it comes to workplace law, the N-word is never acceptable.

If you feel that you have been discriminated against, or subject to a hostile workplace environment, contact the New Jersey employment law experts at NJ Employment Lawyers, LLC to discuss your options.

About the Author
Tom McKinney is a skilled employment law attorney with New Jersey Employment Lawyers LLC. He has a track record of success in all areas of employment law, including sexual harassment, discrimination, harassment, wrongful discharge, whistleblower claims and hostile work environment claims. Besides litigation, Tom handles severance agreements and severance package reviews/negotiations for over 100 people each year. If you have any questions regarding this blog, contact Tom here.