Nooses And the N-Word At Work: Same As It Ever Was

It has been awhile since I posted about nooses and the N-word at work —

“It is extraordinary,” I wrote some years ago, “that the ‘N-word’ and the noose keep reappearing in lawsuits claiming a racially harassing workplace.”  And that “More than 50 years after the Civil Rights Acts were passed, racism continues in the society at large, and in the workplace in particular.”

“I continue to post,” I wrote last year:

“about every workplace racial harassment case that I see where the N-word or a noose is involved, hoping to impress upon employers the seriousness of this, and the necessity of taking action to prevent it: for everyone involved. It doesn’t seem to sink in.”

Well, here’s a new case — and a recap that places this new case at the head of a long line of similar cases.

Racial Slurs At Work

A Delaware-based water and wastewater service company just agreed to pay $150,000 in a racial harassment and retaliation lawsuit brought by the EEOC.  As we’ve seen in virtually every racial harassment case, in this case a white superintendent and white foremen “repeatedly made derogatory and offensive comments to and about an African-American foreman and black employees, including calling them racial epithets such as ‘n—-r,’ ‘monkey,’ and ‘boy.’”

This sounds familiar, and like it could be 1870, or 1885, or 1920, or …

The African-American foreman complained – but the management promoted one of the harassers and assigned him to supervise the African-American foreman, and fired the black foreman for complaining about the racially hostile work environment,

An EEOC district director commented on the retaliation claim: “This is almost a textbook case on how not to handle a harassment complaint. Employers must take prompt action to stop harassment — not reward a wrongdoer by promoting him and punish the victim by firing him.”

Employers should be guided by that comment. … But what about the underlying racial harassment complaint?  Seems like we’ve seen this before.

Same As It Ever Was

Last year the EEOC sued a North Carolina company for a racially hostile work environment.  Guess the nature of the allegations?

It was alleged that as soon as the African American employee began working, his white foreman and some co-workers called him the “N-word” and other racial epithets on an almost daily basis, made racial jokes, and more than once physically threatened him.  Shockingly, according to the complaint, “the company’s equal employment opportunity officer witnessed at least one of the incidents of harassment and received complaints about some of the abuse, but took no action to stop it.”  The employee quit.

Sounds almost exactly like the newly-settled case.

Supervisor Said He “Could Shoot A N _ _ _ _ r A Mile Away”

And then there was a really shocking racial harassment suit filed by the EEOC in late 2016 against a Minnesota construction company on behalf of two African American employees.  The EEOC alleged that “the harassment included the [white] supervisor making racially derogatory comments to [two African-American employees] including calling them ‘n—-r.’  The supervisor told [the two employees] that he had a gun, and made threats that he could ‘shoot a n—-r a mile away.’ The supervisor made a noose out of electrical wire and threated to hang [them].”  Other supervisors witnessed these events, and one of the employees complained to another supervisor and the company’s safety director.


Nothing was done.

And back in 2012 I noted that the EEOC announced a $500,000 settlement with an Atlanta manufacturer to settle a racially hostile work environment lawsuit which 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 [naturally], and one employee found one at his work station.


An EEOC regional attorney said some time back that:

“Racial discrimination and harassment are always unconscionable and illegal, but a situation where African-Americans are called racial slurs and threatened with a noose and gun is utterly shocking and unacceptable in the 21st century.”

The workplace, being a microcosm of the real world, is it any wonder that it echoes the roiling waters of the American landscape which has existed for generations?

Employers must insure that this does not occur – and that if a complaint is made that it is expeditiously investigated and remedied.

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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]