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Race and Gender Discrimination Attorney Top Answer: Am I working in a hostile work environment? Can I stop racially or gender motivated name calling in the workplace? Do I have a claim for employment discrimination?

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Our employment law attorneys very rarely comment on blogs written by other attorneys. But, last night, I read a blog by Jon Hyman on his Ohio Employer’s Law Blog and I could not stop thinking about how wrong it is. Now, you might be thinking that with the name Ohio Employer’s Law Blog, Jon is always tilting toward the employer side, but for the most part he is neutral. But, on Friday, Jon wrote a blog about Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg launching BanBossy.com, which addresses women supervisors are often given antagonistic labels for same type of conduct that gets rewarded by male counterparts. A male executive barks orders at subordinates and he is “in control” and “authoritative.” But, a woman boss who does the same thing is deemed “bossy” or a “bitch.” A man supervisor that fires someone is looked positively for being unemotional about business decisions that need to be made and executed. But, a female executive that does the same thing becomes “the ice queen” who does not “get along well with others.”

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The problem, in my view, stems from societal view on maternal and paternal roles. Fathers (men) are supposed to be the disciplinarians while mothers (women) are supposed to be the nurtures. Unfortunately, when this type of gender stereotyping is carried into the work environment, women are stuck between their obligations as a boss and the maternal gender identity assigned to them. This is gender discrimination. If it comes from a boss above the woman, it may be a factor used to show disparate treatment. If it happens regularly, it may be evidence of a gender based hostile work environment.

And this is where the dispute between Sandberg and Hyman lies. Sandberg says ban all the words, such as bossy, that indicate that women are being treated differently should be banned. Hyman, on the other hand, says banning any word does not stop discrimination. I think that they both go too far. Hyman says: “Words are just words. Banning them, no matter how offensive they might be, doesn’t change the underlying thoughts and the resulting behavior. Do you know what happens when you ban a word like ‘nigger?’ People who are inclined to say it think it instead. Banning a word doesn’t end bigotry, it just takes it underground.” But, words about racism, gender discrimination, national origin discrimination, religious discrimination, etc. are like yawning. One person says it and another person says it and so on. If you do not stop it, it spreads because tolerating it is tacitly acknowledging that it is not offensive or acceptable. So words like “nigger”, “wetback,” “kike,” and other clearly offensive words in any context should be banned by employers, who should be liable for allowing or even tolerating such language in the workplace.

As our race discrimination lawyers have previously blogged, we agree with District of Columbia Court of Appeals‘ decision in Ayissi-Etoh v. Fannie Mae, et al., which held: “perhaps no single act can more quickly alter the conditions of employment” than “the use of an unambiguously racial epithet such as ‘nigger’ by a supervisor.”

So why stopping the one person for saying it may not change his or her racism, as Hyman suggests, it does send a signal to those that haven’t formed an opinion that such conduct is not right. In other words, while it may not change the source it changes the spread. Furthermore, blocking such implicitly hostile and offensive words stops the affect on the recipient minority and allows those minorities to do their job without the stress of hearing and dealing with such language.

How did Sandberg go too far? Well, some words may or may not be offensive based on their context. Guys can be bossy. So can women. While coworkers or bosses might call a woman a bitch, they might call a guy an asshole or a prick. You need the context to determine whether men and women are being treated differently. It is okay and certainly not unlawful to dislike your boss or coworker, and call him or her a name or two, even an offensive name that is not discriminatory or based on a protected class. So until Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is amended to protect assholes, keep calling them assholes. If it appears that all the name calling is directed at a protected class, the law already covers that and prohibits disparate treatment and hostile work environments.

If you have been fired, discriminated against based on your race, national origin, gender, age, religion or disability; or even think that you might need an employment lawyer, then it would be best to call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation at (216) 291-4744. The Spitz Law Firm and its attorneys are experienced and dedicated to protecting employees’ rights and solving employment disputes.

Disclaimer:

The materials available at the top of this page and at this employment law website are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. If you are still asking, “How do I …”, “What should I do …,” “My boss discriminated against me because …” or “I was fired for …”, it would be best for to contact an Ohio attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular employment law issue or problem. Use and access to this employment law website or any of the links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship. The legal opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual lawyer and may not reflect the opinions of The Spitz Law Firm, Brian Spitz, or any individual attorney.