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Can an offensive word create a hostile work environment?

by | May 28, 2021 | Workplace Discrimination

A hostile work environment can be the basis for a discrimination lawsuit. Proving that your employer subjected you to a hostile work environment can come from a wide range of evidence, such as emails, voice mails, written notes, drawings, cartoons, photographs, verbal comments and jokes.

The extent of the abuse is different from situation to situation. A case that will be going before the U.S. Supreme Court soon may determine if a single but continuous instance of a racial epithet is enough to establish a potential discrimination claim.

N-word on the elevator wall

The case concerns a former hospital employee who sued the hospital for racial discrimination. It appears he largely based his case on racist graffiti at the hospital, particularly the N-word that someone had carved into the wall of an elevator. The worker says he had to ride that elevator for six months. The implication seems to be that the hospital chose not to get rid of the racist graffiti during that time and knowingly exposed him to it every time he was at work.

Supreme Court to rule on the case

Lower court judges dismissed the discrimination suit, but the Supreme Court agreed to hear the matter on appeal. The Court will not decide the case on the merits. Instead, the question before them will be if the elevator graffiti is enough evidence of a hostile work environment that the man’s lawsuit should be allowed to proceed.

In many cases, proof of a hostile work environment is more pervasive. After months or years of discriminatory comments and actions from supervisors, managers and coworkers, a Cleveland worker may have had enough and feel ready to take legal action.