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How employment law views the use of racial, ethnic, sexist and other slurs

Bigoted remarks show what the speaker thinks of the target.  They are meant to signal the speaker’s belief that the target is unworthy of respect and fair treatment because of immutable characteristics like age, sex, race, national origin or sexual orientation.  The use of an unambiguous epithet turns the workplace into an abusive working environment. Such language is symbolic of the hateful attitudes that employment discrimination laws are intended to eradicated.  The ban on discrimination includes a hostile work environment based upon membership in a protected class.  Hostility to a member of a protected class is evidence of a hostile work environment. It shows that a defendant condones discriminatory harassment by its workers and can be used to demonstrate that the reason for an adverse action is false.

The juxtaposition of a bigoted slur with a more general insult is a window into the views of the individual who made the non-bigoted insult.  Far from proving that there is nothing to the bigoted insults, the slur should color other derogatory comments from the source.  Conduct that is not explicitly bigoted in nature may, in appropriate circumstances, be considered along with more overtly discriminatory conduct in assessing a legal claim.

Pamela A. Smith
Law Office of Pamela A. Smith
233 Needham Street, Suite 540
Newton, MA 02464


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