Will The N-Word And Nooses Ever Stop?  Maybe When The Civil War Finally Ends

You may have observed that when it comes to the state of race relations, the Civil War seems to have  never ended, despite Grant and Lee’s friendly sit-down at Appomattox in 1865.  Before we can start the necessary dialogue to finally end the 150-year old Civil War and its toxic precursors, we have to get past the coming election, the rhetoric of which threatens to spiral out of control, along with the magnitude of the hate which has been revealed.

Abraham Lincoln, Bronze Statue, Virginia

Why raise this issue in this blog?

Well, the politically-roiling waters of the present day American landscape is echoed – or paralleled – in the cases which come before the EEOC.  The workplace is, after all, a microcosm of the real world.  And another case involving the N-word has been filed by the EEOC.

And employers must be in the vanguard in ensuring that the workplace is a “level playing field,” as the law demands.  No harassment, no slurs, no epithets — and no nooses.

As you know I write about every employment discrimination case that I come across involving the N-word to remind readers – and myself – that these cases have not ended, and that racism in the workplace has not ended.

Indeed, there are few subjects which I have written more about than the use of the “N-word” in the workplace — which seems to be ever-present when racial harassment is alleged.  On September 28, 2012 I said that “It is extraordinary that the ‘N-word’ and the noose keep reappearing in lawsuits claiming a racially harassing workplace.”

The EEOC Does Not Like The N-word

Back in 2013 I asked “What do you need to do to wave a large red flag in front of the EEOC? Well, for one you can tolerate or ignore, or worse condone, the use of the N-word and nooses in the workplace. We, jaded as we are, who think that we have seen or heard it all, are still shocked when egregious racial claims of this type are filed.  Indeed, we tend to write about each such case brought by the EEOC.”

In 2012 I noted that the EEOC announced a settlement with an Atlanta manufacturer, which agreed to pay $500,000 to 14 employees to settle a racially hostile work environment lawsuit.  The suit alleged that graffiti and racial epithets were directed at African-American employees, including:  “KKK,” swastikas, Confederate flags, “white power” and “die, n—-r, die.”   Hangman’s nooses were also displayed, and one employee found one at his work station.

Think about some of the memes found on the internet now.

Sling, Hangman, Hanging, Knot, Execution

In a second case back then, according to the EEOC a California trucking company and an earthmoving farming company agreed to a settlement of $30,000 to an African-American driver and his white co-worker based upon a claim of racial harassment.  The dispatcher allegedly called the African-American driver racial epithets such as “gorilla,” “porch monkey,” and the infamous and oft-used N-word.

Two EEOC attorneys summed up the egregiousness of the first case.  One said that: “Racism in any form is bad enough, but racist graffiti that included Confederate flags and death wishes accompanied by vile racist epithets go far beyond the pale even of prejudice. Terms like ‘KKK’ evoke violent and threatening attitudes towards African-Americans.”

Sound eerily like today’s political discourse?

A second attorney said that “This case demonstrates racism at its most hateful level. The violations in this case are especially odious in light of the multiple reports of racist graffiti made by numerous employees.”

And last year the EEOC sued a Texas company on behalf of 70 black employees who were subjected to  racist graffiti, drawings and other symbols written on bathroom walls, and racial slurs from supervisors and co-workers that included the “N-word” and “boy.”  The case ended in a $4 million settlement.

Said an EEOC lawyer: “Racial harassment unfortunately remains a persistent problem in the 21st century, more than 50 years after passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. The bad seeds of racial animus planted in the workplace cannot be allowed to spread over time and to choke out mutual respect on the job. Racism must be uprooted by decisive action to cultivate equal opportunity.”

Juries Too Don’t Like The N-Word

I also noted back then that juries also do not like nooses or the N-word in the workplace.  There was the news that a North Carolina federal jury, “acting as the conscience of this community,” according to the EEOC, awarded $200,000 in compensatory and punitive damages against a trucking company on behalf of two former African-American truck drivers who were repeatedly subjected to such racist abuse.

One driver was repeatedly subjected by his supervisor and co-workers to racist slurs such as “n—-r,”  “monkey” and “boy,” was asked by a white co-worker if he wanted to be the “coon” in their “coon hunt,” and had a co-worker come to him with a noose saying “This is for you.  Do you want to hang from the family tree?”

The second driver claimed that the company’s general manager told him that he was the company’s “token black,” and threatened:  “Don’t find a noose with your name on it” — some of his “friends” might visit the driver in the middle of the night.

The Latest EEOC Case

These suits never end, and do not seem to vary in the racial slurs and symbols used in the workplace.

The EEOC just sued the largest US producer of shellfish for “ongoing racial harassment and retaliatory discipline against a black maintenance mechanic.”  The suit alleges that from the jump, an African-American employee “faced demeaning comments and stereotypes about his race and was regularly called variations of the “N word” as well as “spook” and “boy.”  His  supervisor assigned him “less desirable jobs, publicly screaming profanities at him and writing him up for insubordination.”

The employee said that his supervisor told him that “his father used to run ‘my kind’ out of town.’”

Nice touch.  “Build the wall.”

He continued:  “In the military, when I traveled around the world for my country, I never encountered anyone who made me feel that I was less than them simply because of the color of my skin. But when I went to work for [this employer], I was constantly robbed of my dignity for simply being black.”

It is no accident of history that it took military service in WWII to finally allow African-Americans to experience the world at large and to fuel the nascent civil rights movement.

The management of this company was informed of the racist incidents and language but according to the EEOC “simply told [the employee] to just get thicker skin and ‘put his head down and do what he was told.’”

“Get over it,” Justice Scalia liked to say.  What a fine panacea for the social ills plaguing our country.

Takeaway:  “The day that a worker is judged by race instead of work performance should be long behind us,” said an EEOC lawyer.

Civil War, Military, Portrait, History


But that presupposes that the Civil War in fact ended at Appomattox.



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Richard Cohen

Richard B. Cohen is a partner in the New York City office of FisherBroyles, LLP, a national law firm. Richard Cohen has litigated and arbitrated complex corporate, commercial and employment disputes for more than 35 years, and is a trusted advisor to business owners and in-house counsel both in the United States and internationally. His clients have included Fortune 100 companies, domestic and foreign commercial and investment banks, Pacific-rim corporations and real estate development companies, as well as start-up businesses throughout the United States. Email Richard at [email protected]