No "N-Word," But A Noose: Brevity Is The Soul Of Witlessness

Two racial harassment cases were just settled by the EEOC and the only thing of real note to me is that the N-word apparently was not used.  This is an exception in these cases, of course.

Racial animus still rears its ugly head in the workplace, as these cases evidence.   I try to post about every racial harassment case I see (there are a lot) and have commented many times before that in virtually every such case involving African Americans there is the N-word – and/or a noose.

The fact that a noose was allegedly involved in one new case settlement is a horror by itself, while the slurs in the second case – while not the N-word – are, of course, unacceptable.

But why a noose?  Let’s examine.

Since the advent of social media and the limit of 140 characters (how many now?) “brevity is the soul of witlessness.”  Simple and easily understood memes must be used to convey enough information to communicate an idea – such as it is.  And to those newly-emboldened to drop any pretense of a dog whistle, which apparently made them chafe and feel that their freedom was being impinged upon, what better meme conveys racial animus than the historically well-understood  noose?

A meme is not an effective means of communicating an idea if it is not easily – and immediately – understood.  Think of speaking gibberish or in code instead of full sentences.  On the other hand, to the communicator it can be more easily walked back than a completely understood sentence if it encounters sufficient blowback; for example, “That’s obviously not what I meant” or “That’s your warped interpretation.”  Amazing what a single image can accomplish.

But this isn’t a post about social media or communications – but about a hostile workplace: a real noose in the workplace communicates the same thing as a social media meme — but it is oh so more startling – and intimidating, it’s undoubted intent and effect.

The noose in this new case was allegedly found in the workplace of an Ohio foundry. It was alleged by the EEOC that one of the “Company’s top officials subjected employees to derogatory racial comments and that there was a noose hanging in the facility.”

Moreover, the claim was that “minority employees were disciplined for violating company policies while white employees who violated the same policies were not disciplined.”

The settlement consisted of a multi-year conciliation agreement whereby the company agreed to:

“provide sub¬stantial monetary relief to identified victims. The company will hold managers and supervisors account¬able for immediately addressing discrimination in the workplace and provide ongoing training to all employees. Company policies and procedures for dealing with discrimination will be revised and the company will report to the EEOC for the agreement’s term.”

In the second case, a life insurance company has agreed to pay a whopping $20.5 million to a class of employees who alleged race, national origin, and sex discrimination and retaliation.

The EEOC claimed that a hostile work environment was created for female and African American employees. They were:

referred to as “lazy,” had stress balls thrown at them, and were subjected to racially demeaning cartoons. … a high-level manager [allegedly] referred to multiple African American female employees as ‘resident street walkers’ and that female employees endured sexual comments and leering from male coworkers. … [it was] alleged that at least one high-level manager kissed subordinate females on their lips, and much of the hostile work environment involved conduct by high-level managers and executives.

No noose in this one, and still no N-word, but epithets and slurs nonetheless, and, oh yeah – assaults.


Only the pic below.

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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]