Good news for employers worried that a single inflammatory utterance could land them in big legal trouble: Courts generally won’t hold an employer responsible.
Recent case: Shortly before being discharged for abandoning his job, Anthony, who is black, claimed to have overheard one supervisor tell another in a cellphone conversation that the second supervisor should “Tell that n****r to get to work on time.” Anthony sued, claiming the supervisor immediately confronted him and said that the other supervisor “says to get to work on time.”
The court was first skeptical that the incident was as Anthony described, because no one else who was present recalled hearing the slur. However, it said that even if Anthony’s recollection was accurate, a one-time slur, though unprofessional, wasn’t enough to create a hostile work environment. (Harris v. The Home Sales Company, et al., No. 11-1313, 4th Cir., 2012)