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Top Employment Attorney Responses: What is disparate treatment? What is constructive discharge? What should I do if my boss calls me “N*gger,” “Boy” or other racial slurs?

Many employees feel that they work in a hostile work environment. But simply because you work for a boss or supervisor that is mean, yells, calls you dumb, makes you work a shift you don’t want, or refuses to give you a raise, does not mean that you have a legal claim for a hostile work environment. Both federal law (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Americans with Disabilities Act) and state law (such as Ohio’s Revised Code § 4112.01, et al.) protect employees from hostile work environments based on race/color, religion, gender/sex, national origin, age, disability. To state a claim under these laws, an employee must present evidence that the hostile work environment is based on one of these protected classes, it is severe and/or pervasive and is unwelcome.

In Harris v. Forklift Sys., Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 21, 114 S. Ct. 367, 370, 126 L. Ed. 2d 295 (1993), the United States Supreme Court held on this point:

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it “an unlawful employment practice for an employer … to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e–2(a)(1). As we made clear in Meritor Savings Bank, FSB v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57, 106 S.Ct. 2399, 91 L.Ed.2d 49 (1986), this language “is not limited to ‘economic’ or ‘tangible’ discrimination. The phrase ‘terms, conditions, or privileges of employment’ evinces a congressional intent ‘to strike at the entire spectrum of disparate treatment of men and women in employment,” which includes requiring people to work in a discriminatorily hostile or abusive environment. Id., at 64, 106 S.Ct., at 2404, quoting Los Angeles Dept. of Water and Power v. Manhart, 435 U.S. 702, 707, n. 13, 98 S.Ct. 1370, 1374, 55 L.Ed.2d 657 (1978) (some internal quotation marks omitted). When the workplace is permeated with “discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult,” 477 U.S., at 65, 106 S.Ct., at 2405, that is “sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create an abusive working environment,” id., at 67, 106 S.Ct., at 2405 (internal brackets and quotation marks omitted), Title VII is violated.

Typically, to be an actionable claim, the conduct either has to flow directly from a boss, manager, supervisor, or an owner of the business; or such a person has to actually have or should have knowledge of the conduct but fails correct or stop it. (See Help! My Boss Won’t Stop Race Discrimination!What Does My Job Have To Do When I Report Race Discrimination?). While one comment typically will not create a claim for a hostile work environment, our employment law attorneys have blogged about when one comment is severe enough to create a claim. (See Does Being Called The N-word Once Constitute a Hostile Work Environment?; Does Race Discrimination Count On Video Calls?). Unfortunately, many times racist bosses and managers do not stop at one comment. (See Can I Sue If My Boss Calls Black Workers “Monkeys” And “Slaves”? I Need A Race Discrimination Lawyer?; Top Race Discrimination Lawyer Rely: My Boss Called Me A “N*gger” and “Porch Monkey.” What Should I Do?).

A recent example of a hostile work environment comes to us courtesy of Don’s Specialty Meats. According to the Complaint, the employer engaged in a series of incredibly offensive and racist conduct. A boss identified the African American employee as “black boy” on the work schedule. The employee was repeatedly called “n*gger”. And this came right from the top of the company as the general manager of the company routinely referred to the employee as “Black boy,” “the Black boy,” or “little Black guy.” The company tolerated racial slurs from several employees. And then, a manager told this employee that Don’s was hiring, but that any new hires “just can’t be Black” and that the general manager “don’t want them to be Black.”

Beyond the verbal harassment, there was disparate treatment. Disparate treatment is also unlawful under Title VII and occurs when an employer treats an employee unfairly compared to other employees based on the person’s race/color, religion, gender/sex, national origin, age, disability. In this case, the only African American employee was required to pick up garbage by the road because the general manager told another manager to have “the Black boy do it.”

When this conduct finally got reported up the chain, the company to corrective action against one manager – she was not allowed to wear her Don’s shirt for one day. I mean, if that won’t stop racist conduct, what will? Sheesh. No other corrective action was taken. The conduct continued and the employee eventually quit. Employment attorneys call this a constructive discharge or constructive termination, which means that the company does not fire the employee directly, but rather is essentially forces that employee to quit because it creates or tolerates work conditions that are so intolerable that the employee is effectively left with no other option but to resign. Wrongful termination claims can be based on constructive termination.

If you feel that you are being discriminated based on your race, whatever race that 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 at Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm who will help you determine the best way to pursue your legal claims. Our Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Toledo, Detroit, and Youngstown lawyers are here to fight for your rights.


The materials available 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. If you are still asking: “What should I do about my racist boss”, “I’m being discriminated against because I’m Black”, “my boss is harassing me with racial slurs” or “How do I sue for race discrimination if I was fired today”, your best option 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 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, attorney Brian Spitz, or any individual attorney.


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