Federal jury rules it’s illegal to use the N-word while at work even if you’re black
- New York City non-profit founder Rob Carmona lost his argument that the word is a term of endearment in the black community
- Carmona’s former employee Brandi Johnson said he targeted her in a racial tirade
- Carmona must pay Johnson $250,000 compensation plus punitive damages
By Ap Reporter
PUBLISHED: 08:31 EST, 3 September 2013 | UPDATED: 10:55 EST, 3 September 2013
A federal jury has ruled that use of the ‘N-word’ is discriminatory workplace behavior, even when used among blacks.
A black New York City employment agency worker who was the target of a slur-laced rant by her black boss has been awarded $250,000 in compensatory damages by a Manhattan federal jury.
The case against Rob Carmona and the employment agency he founded, STRIVE East Harlem, gave legal airing to what some see as a double standard surrounding the word: It’s a degrading slur when uttered by whites but can be used at times with impunity among blacks.
Too tough? A federal jury has ruled against Robert Carmona, a New York non-profit founder known for his tough love, whose former employee sued him for going on a ‘four minute tirade’ that included the n-word
But 38-year-old Brandi Johnson told jurors that being black didn’t make it any less hurtful to be the target of what her attorney called Carmona’s ‘four-minute [N-word] tirade’ about inappropriate workplace attire and unprofessional behavior.
Johnson, who taped the March 2012 remarks after her complaints about his verbal abuse were disregarded, said she fled to the restroom and cried for 45 minutes.
‘I was offended. I was hurt. I felt degraded. I felt disrespected. I was embarrassed,’ Johnson testified.
In closing arguments, Johnson’s attorney Marjorie M. Sharpe said Carmona’s use of the word was intended to offend ‘and any evidence that defendants put forth to the contrary is simply ridiculous.’
High price: Carmona’s organization, called Strive (pictured), helps rehabilitate and find jobs for former criminals and other difficult to employ people. He must now pay Brandi Johnson $250,000 plus punitive damages
‘When you use the [N-word] to an African-American, no matter how many alternative definitions that you may try to substitute with the [N-word], that is no different than calling a Hispanic by the worst possible word you can call a Hispanic, calling a homosexual male the worst possible word that you can call a homosexual male,’ Sharpe told jurors.
But defense lawyers said the 61-year-old Carmona, a black man of Puerto Rican descent, had a much different experience with the word. Raised by a single mother in a New York City public housing project, he became addicted to heroin in his teens and broke it with the help of drug counselors who employed tough love and tough language.
Carmona went on to earn a master’s degree from Columbia University before co-founding STRIVE in the 1980s.
Now, most of STRIVE’s employees are black women, defense attorney Diane Krebs told jurors in her opening statement.
Illegal: Carmona has made his name helping people get off the streets and into jobs with living wages. He’s now gaining recognition for what has now been labeled ‘discriminatory behavior’ toward his black employee
‘And Mr. Carmona is himself black, as you yourselves can see,’ Krebs said.
In his testimony, Carmona defended his use of the word, saying he used it with Johnson to convey that she was ‘too emotional, wrapped up in her, at least the negative aspects of human nature.’
Then he explained that the word has ‘multiple contexts’ in the black and Latino communities, sometimes indicating anger, sometimes love.
Carmona said he might put his arm around a longtime friend in the company of another and say: ‘This is my [N-word] for 30 years.’
‘That means my boy, I love him, or whatever,’ he said.
He was asked if he meant to indicate love when he called Johnson the word.
‘Yes, I did,’ he responded.
The controversy is a blemish on STRIVE, which has been heralded for helping people with troubled backgrounds get into the workforce. Its employment model, which was described in a CBS’ ‘60 Minutes’ piece as ‘part boot camp, part group therapy,’ claims to have helped nearly 50,000 people find work since 1984.
Sharpe told jurors that STRIVE’s tough-love program cannot excuse Carmona’s behavior.
‘Well, if calling a person a N-word and subjecting them to a hostile work environment is part of STRIVE’s tough love, then STRIVE needs to be reminded that this type of behavior is illegal and cannot be tolerated,’ she said.
This is a very interesting case. As we all know, harming someone physically is a crime, and now saying a word that could be misconstrued as a personal attack is a crime.My fear is that the next thing to be on the list of bans is going to be ideas. We are progressively becoming a nanny state. A state that coddles and protects every inch of your mind, body and soul. We are not there yet, though. I pray that we will never arrive there. This may seem ideal to certain people, but they will soon find out that the heaven that they seek is actually a hell. Fines, arrests, court dates for uttering the word nigger/nigga. This is crazy. Socially, however, it’s fine to give the stink eye to someone who says these type of things, but for government to get involved … no. We cannot solve our social issues through government. The solutions have to come from the people instead. Laws will not change the hearts and minds of individuals, communication will. However, that communication is what’s lacking. I’ve noticed a common trend among the supposed civil liberty fighters, and that is forcing their agenda upon others. Rather than sitting down, talking, debating with others, they believe that they are so right, that they are so infallible, that they don’t need to take the time to hear the other side. And that lack of communication will forever leave people with the word nigger on their lips.