Is it a slur, or a misinterpretation?

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

No one tolerates the usual racial and ethnic slurs. But what about novel phrases that aren’t in the common lexicon? Can those be the basis for a racially hostile work environment claim? Not if the employee claiming she was slurred has nothing but a personal belief to back up her claim.

Recent case: Dianna, who is black, lost her job with a state agency and sued. Among her claims was that she had worked in a racially hostile environment because some co-workers used the phrase “shoot a monkey” in her presence. She said it was racially charged.

The agency argued that the phrase was just a substitute for profanity and wasn’t racial at all. Dianna had nothing to back up her personal beliefs about the phrase. The case was dismissed. (Jones v. Louisiana Department of Health, No. 11-30979, 5th Cir., 2012)

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