A recent case has tested the complex, unwritten rules surrounding the use of the N-word in the workplace—in this case, the successful STRIVE East Harlem temporary agency, which has been profiled on “60 Minutes.”
STRIVE’s founder, who is black and of Puerto Rican descent, professes to use tough love to prepare workers for the workplace. That tough love often involved calling black workers n****r.
One of them, Brandi, didn’t think that being black gave the founder a pass on using the word when he berated her for inappropriate workplace attire and unprofessional behavior. She asked him to stop the verbal abuse. When those requests went unheeded, she recorded the conversation. Then she sued.
At trial, the founder defended his use of the word, explaining that it had many contexts, some of which were expressions of love. The jury gave its love to Brandi when it awarded her $250,000 in compensatory damages and another $30,000 in punitive damages.
Lessons to learned for businesses:
Note: When an employee voices an objection to a perceived racist or sexist term, the supervisor should stop using it.
Final note: Remember that every employee with a smartphone has a recording device in his or her pocket.