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Isolated offensive words don’t always mean hostile workplace

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Some employees think that any negative comment that touches on race or nationality means they have a hostile work environment case. That’s just not true, especially when there’s no evidence that the work environment hurt the employee’s ability to perform her job.

Recent case: Carol Sligh, who is black and speaks with a British accent, claimed she was subjected to a hostile work environment. She said someone asked her whether she spoke English or needed a translator. In addition, she claimed her black supervisor asked her if she was “really a sister” and whether she was “from the ’hood.”

The court characterized the conduct as offensive, but not severe enough to create a hostile work environment. (Sligh v. City of Los Angeles Police Department, No. B212621, Court of Appeal of California, 2nd Appellate District, 2010)

Note: The LAPD won this case, but it should serve as a warning that ethnically based comments invite lawsuits.

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