A Noose In The Workplace? Still?

Even in the midst of a great societal upheaval regarding racial discrimination and harassment, cases of workplace harassment continue unabated.  I guess it is unsurprising, albeit unfortunate, given that the workplace is riven with the same issues as society at large, and, indeed, is simply a microcosm of society at large.

I’ve written so much about workplace racial harassment, especially when it involves the ubiquitous N-word and/or nooses, that once again I am not surprised that the EEOC has just filed a lawsuit, this time in upstate New York, against a Texas-based construction company, alleging all manner of racist acts which, it claimed, “fostered a work environment rife with racist comments and discriminatory work conditions.” 

And yes – nooses and the N-word.  And worse.

Why should one expect the workplace to be different than society at large?

Let the EEOC explain for itself – my reductive description of the claims will be inadequate. This is a veritable checklist of racial harassment and racial symbols and tropes.

“According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, white supervisors and employees regularly made unwelcome racist comments, used racial slurs, threatened black employees with nooses, and subjected African American employees to harsher working conditions than white co-workers.”

And more …

“[W]hite employees frequently referred to black employees with insulting racial epithets. … some of this harassment occurred on a company radio channel for all to hear. White employees bragged that their ancestors had owned slaves and told a black employee he walked funny because slaves used to walk with a bag on their shoulder picking cotton.

Further, one white supervisor attempted to snare an employee with a noose … Another Caucasian supervisor told an African American employee that for Halloween, ‘You don’t even have to dress up. I will dress in white and put a noose around your neck and we’ll walk down the street together.’

African American employees were given more physically taxing and dangerous work than Caucasian counterparts, including being assigned outdoor work in winter while white colleagues worked inside. Black employees objected to and complained about the racial harassment, but it persisted.”


As the EEOC’s regional attorney said: “Here there were numerous examples of abho­rrent racial discrimination and harassment. The use of a noose is especially vicious. Such misconduct violates federal law and common decency.”

Perhaps we are seeing a new America being born today … and then these atrocities may end.

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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]