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Don’t overreact to co-worker’s isolated racial slur, but don’t ignore it either

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in Employment Law,Firing,HR Management,Human Resources

Most HR professionals like to think their workplaces are free from slurs and other behavior that smacks of racial hostility. If only that were always true!

Sadly, bigotry sometimes rears its ugly head.

But the good news is that an isolated comment—even if highly offensive—probably isn’t enough to make you liable. That is, unless the comment is made by a supervisor.

Recent case: Nakita Gant worked as a manager for a grocery store and claimed that her co-manager once used the word “ghetto” and the N-word in a private conversation with her.

Gant complained. Shortly after, she was fired. She sued, alleging that her discharge was retaliation for protected activity—for complaining about her colleague’s comment.

The court dismissed her case. It reasoned that, objectively, no employee would conclude that a single statement by a co-worker, even if highly offensive, created a racially hostile environment. Plus, the court saw no connection between her complaint and her discharge. It concluded that the company had another good business reason for firing Gant. (Gant v. Kash n’ Karry, No. 8:07-CV-2086, MD FL, 2009)

Final note: This case is no excuse to ignore complaints. All the court is saying is that employers won’t be zapped for one comment made by a co-worker and not sanctioned by the company.

Bottom line: Employees can’t be ultrasensitive, but employers can’t ignore bad behavior, either.

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