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How Much Racism Do I Have To Put Up With At Work?

On Behalf of | Mar 20, 2019 | Employment Discrimination, Race Discrimination, Wrongful Termination |

Best Ohio Race Discrimination Attorney Answer: How bad does race-based harassment at my workplace have to be in order for me to sue? Can my boss or HR claim that the harassment is not that bad and refuse to address it? What should I do if I work in a hostile work environment? What is the best way to find a top wrongful termination lawyer in Ohio?

Most employees put up with a lot of crap from their boss, manager, supervisor, or even coworkers. But, there comes a time when every worker’s tolerance for racist, sexist, anti-Semetic, or homophobic harassing or discrimination just plain runs out. Not that any of such conduct is acceptable, but employees will inevitably put up with a certain about of this bullshit before screaming, enough is enough. Today, our employment law lawyers are using race discrimination as an example of harassment that goes too far and creates a hostile work environment.

As you can probably imagine, our discrimination attorneys routinely deal with some of the worst human conduct out there – we hear from employees whose supervisors openly discriminate based on employees’ race, gender, pregnancy, national origin, disability, religion, military status, ancestry, or age when making employment decisions, who pay people different amounts for the same work upon similar unlawful considerations, and who retaliate against employees who report or oppose such conduct. Our employment attorneys have gone after managers, bosses, and supervisors that have demand sex from their subordinate employees.

Our employment law attorneys also hear from lots of employees who are subjected to hostile work environments. These employees suffer from unfair bullying, harassment, and nitpicking based on a protected class from their co-workers and supervisors. They are sometimes called names, targeted for discipline, and they are socially ostracized. You know what one of the worst parts of these cases is? Employers will often try to say that the harassment and discrimination the employee experienced was “not that bad” and that the employee is attempting to make a mountain out of a mole hill. It makes our employment lawyers sick to their stomachs when employers try to defend themselves by trivializing the torture that they put their employees through by forcing them to work in a hostile work environment.

What the employers are trying to do is attack one of the elements legally necessary to establish a hostile work environment claim. A hostile work environment is one in which there is harassment or discrimination (because of race, gender, national origin, religion, age, or disability) that is so severe and pervasive that it alters the terms and conditions of a person’s employment, and creates an abusive working environment. To prove that discrimination and harassment is “severe and pervasive,” an employee must show that the work environment is both subjectively hostile (hostile to the employee personally) and objectively hostile (a reasonable person would find the environment hostile). Critically, courts generally review the objective requirement from the perspective of a reasonable person in the employee’s shoes, who knew what the employee knew at the time. Recently, our employment discrimination attorneys blogged about the severe and pervasive requirement. (See My Co-workers Are Racist! What Can I Do?).

It is important to note that courts have held that garden-variety bullying and harassment is not illegal unless it is motivated by an illegal discriminatory consideration. If your co-workers are mean to you, that may be a hostile environment, but it does not rise to the level of an illegal hostile work environment that you can successfully sue over unless the reason (or one of the reasons) you are being bullied is because of your race, gender, sex, pregnancy, national origin, disability, religion, military status, ancestry, or age.

If you cannot prove that you are being treated horribly for one of these discriminatory reasons, your options of stopping the hostile work environment, other than to find a new job, are extremely limited. Of course, these days people are smart enough to hide their true motivations for harassment, and you should never assume that just because one of your tormentors never makes an outright discriminatory remark, that your membership in a protected class is not a factor. If you are being bullied or harassed and you even have a small inkling that an unlawful consideration is the reason why, make sure you call the right attorney and complain to management or human resources – preferably in writing. Just make sure that when you complain, you specify what illegal consideration you think is motivating the harassment. This is very important.

Recently the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeal addressed the severe and pervasive element in Gates v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago (7th Cir. 2/20/19). In this case Fred Gates brought a claim for hostile work environment against the school district where he worked. Gates claimed that there were three separate incidents of harassment over a nine-month period. First, Gates claimed that his supervisor Rafael Rivera told him he would not be promoted because he was black. Keep in mind, that this direct evidence that an African American employee would not be promoted because of his race also supports a claim for race discrimination because, like wrongfully firing an employee, the failure to promote is an adverse employment action. (See My Company Doesn’t Allow Women To Be Promoted!; My Employer Will Not Promote Me Because Of My Age. I Need The Top Employment Lawyer In Ohio!).

Second, Gates claimed Rivera said to him that “when someone farts and a black guy’s sitting there,” it’s called a “shit-sniffing nigger.” Finally, Gates testified that in a meeting, Rivera told him that he’s “tired of you people,” and when Gates asked what people Rivera was talking about Rivera said to him, “Nigger, you know what I’m talking about.” Hearing an employer talk to a black employee like that just makes my stomach turn. But get this, the district court granted summary judgment to the employer. This means they thought the employer’s case was so strong that it didn’t even need to go to the jury and tossed the case out! The court justified their decision stating that “[t]he workplace that is actionable is one that is ‘hellish.’” Fortunately, Gates appealed his case to the 7th Circuit who finally applied some common sense to the situation.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit found in favor of Gates and allowed his case to go before a jury. In their decision the Seventh Circuit held:
While a “hellish” workplace is surely actionable, plaintiffs’ evidence need not show a descent into the Inferno.… The issue is whether the discriminatory conduct Gates testified to qualifies as sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of his work environment.… In short, when the harassment involves such appalling racist language in comments made directly to employees by their supervisors, we have not affirmed summary judgment for employers.…

If the only evidence of racial harassment Gates had was a co-worker’s use of the three epithets uttered by Rivera, we would likely reach a different conclusion in this case. Given Rivera’s position as Gates’s supervisor, however, if a jury credits Gates’s testimony about Rivera’s comments, it could reasonably find that Gates suffered an actionable hostile work environment.… A jury would likely have a difficult time concluding that a supervisor calling his employee the “N-word” and threatening to write up his “black ass” were not examples of harassing comments motivated by race. Although Rivera’s conduct was relatively infrequent and not “physically threatening” or “humiliating” in a public setting, it was severe and humiliating.
Here the Court made a few important distinctions. First, they pointed out that the hostile work environment was caused by the supervisor. Second, they highlighted the “appalling racist language.” Remember to establish a claim for a hostile work environment, an employee needs to demonstrate that they were subjected to a severe and pervasive environment of harassment based on their membership in a protected class; that they were personally offended by it; that others would be too; and that the harassment was so severe that it affected the ability of the employee to do their job. As our attorneys discussed previously, garden variety bullying from your co-workers may not rise to the level of a hostile work environment. However, if your supervisor is taking part in, or the ring leader of the bullying it is a different story. Further the more overtly discriminatory the comments or bullying is, in this case the use of the N-word, the stronger a case for hostile work environment is. Our race discrimination lawyers have blogged about this before. (See Race Discrimination: Using The “N-Word,” Even Once, Can Create A Hostile Work Environment; Can I Sue My Employer If My Boss Calls Me A Lazy Stupid African? Best Lawyer Reply!;  Racial Discrimination: Defendant Who Argued That The Term “Nigger” and “Monkey” Not “Slurs But, Rather, As Terms Of Endearment” Shockingly Loses, Pays Large Sum Of Money). Unfortunately, our employment lawyers have had way too many examples about this type of racist conduct and racial harassment to blog about. (See My Racist Boss Says “Nigger,” “Wetback,” “Wagon Burner,” & “Beaner” All The Time! I Need A Lawyer! and Race Discrimination: Minority Bosses Cannot Use N-Word Either).

So, what should you do then if you are working in a hostile work environment? Complain about it! Surprisingly, this seems counterintuitive to many people, who are afraid that if they “rock the boat,” things will get worse, or that they might be fired for it. But this is not actually a bad thing. Ohio law (R.C. § 4112.99) and federal law (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964) make it unlawful to retaliate against someone for complaining about unlawful discrimination and harassment, even if the complaints turn out to be unmerited. So, as it turns out, complaining actually gives you extra protection under the law. This is why it is also very important to document your complaints to a boss, manager, owner of the company, and/or HR in writing. The best thing to do is to keep a copy of your written complaint about discrimination in the workplace, including any confirmation as to how it was sent in, i.e. a fax receipt or email read receipt. If you are uncertain about how to make the complaint about harassment or discrimination on your job, get help from one of our employment lawyers. You do not have to wait until you are wrongfully fired to consult a qualified employment law attorney.

If you feel that you are saying “I’m being discriminated against at work because I’m black” or “my boss harasses me because I’m African American”, or whatever race you may be, then call the right attorney. Race discrimination includes being harassed, fired, wrongfully terminated, discriminated against, demoted, wrongfully disciplined, and denied wages. When you call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation, you will meet with a race discrimination lawyer from Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm who will help you determine the best way to pursue your legal claims. Call our office at 866-797-6040.


The materials from our employment lawyers at the top of this race discrimination page and on this employment law website are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice or creating an attorney-client relationship. If you are still thinking: “What should I do if my racist boss fired me today because I complained about race discrimination?” “I’m being discriminated against at work,” “my manager keeps calling me a lazy nigger and a ghetto bastard,” or “How do I sue for race discrimination?”, your best choice is to contact an Ohio attorney to obtain advice with respect to race discrimination questions or any particular employment law issue. Use and access to this employment discrimination and harassment 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 Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm, attorney Brian Spitz, or any individual attorney.