The Court of Appeals has reinstated a racial and gender discrimination lawsuit, finding that management's use of the N-word and other epithets supports his claim, and that the sexual harassment may have exacerbated the racial harassment. The Second Circuit, however, declines to find as a matter of law that the N-word by itself creates a hostile work environment.
The case is Daniel v. T&M Protection Resources, a summary order decided on April 25. Plaintiff handled the appeal pro se, but the EEOC submitted and amicus brief on his behalf. The EEOC wanted the Second Circuit (Pooler, Wesley and Carney) to find that this racial epithet is enough to prevail in a racial harassment case. The Circuit said in Rivera v. Rochester Genessee Reg'l Transp. Auth., 743 F.3d 11 (2d Cir. 2014), that "perhaps no single act can more quickly alter the conditions of employment and create an abusive working environment than the use of an unambiguously racial epithet of the slur 'nigger' by a supervisor in the presence of his subordinates." But that language was dicta, the Second Circuit says, and therefore not binding on any court. Still, "although we decline to confront the issue of whether the one-time use of the slur 'nigger' by a supervisor to a subordinate can, by itself, support a claim for a hostile work environment, we conclude that the district court improperly relied on our precedents when it rejected this possibility as a matter of law." So what does this mean? Is the Court of Appeals suggesting the district court can find that the N-word is enough to make out a case? It looks that way.
The Second Circuit also says that, in making out his gender discrimination claim, plaintiff can cite evidence that his supervisor frequently called him a "homo" and told him to "Man up, be a man." This is harassment based on gender stereotypes. While the district court properly considered this evidence in evaluating plaintiff's claim, it improperly declined to consider whether facially-neutral conduct bolstered the harassment claim. "We have held that a plaintiff may rely upon facially neutral conduct to bolster a harassment claim when 'the same individual engaged in multiple acts of harassment, some overtly [based on a protected characteristic] and some not.'” Since plaintiff's supervisor treated him like garbage, that maltreat may be folded into the racial and sexual harassment case, and the jury may conclude that facially-neutral acts of harassment were in fact motivated by plaintiff's gender and race.
The district court also blew it in not evaluating plaintiff's harassment claims as a whole. In fact, plaintiff alleged about 20 acts of harassment during his 15-months of employment, including two severe incidents (the racial comment and the supervisor rubbing himself against plaintiff's buttocks). Viewed as a whole, all of this is enough to win the case. In and of itself, the Circuit says, it does not matter that plaintiff only missed one day of work because of the harassment. What is more, the Court of Appeals says, the evidence of racial, sexual and national origin harassment can be viewed in the aggregate in finding that, i.e., the racial harassment exacerbated the sexual harassment.