black man smiling shaking someones hand racial slurs in the workplace

Federal, state, and local laws prohibit racially-based discrimination and harassment in New York. Yet, racial slurs and symbols in the workplace are an ongoing problem, even in New York City. Hearing racial slurs or seeing racial symbols in the workplace can create a hostile work environment or constitute harassment prohibited by anti-discrimination laws.

If you have been subjected to racial epithets, racial slurs, or racial symbols in the workplace, you may have a valid anti-discrimination claim. At Lipsky Lowe LLP, we believe that no employee should have to endure racial slurs and symbols in the workplace. If you’re unsure whether you have a valid legal claim against your employer, our legal team is here to help. We recommend hiring an experienced New York City employment lawyer to protect your right to be free from harassment and a hostile work environment.

Racial Slurs and Symbols Can Create a Hostile Work Environment

Using racial slurs and symbols constitutes unlawful racial discrimination. Whether you’ve been exposed to racial slurs and symbols from a supervisor, co-worker, or another person at your workplace, you may have a right to an employment law claim against your employer. You do not need to be the person at whom the racial slurs and symbols are directed to be able to file a claim against your employer. For example, if you overhear your co-workers making racial slurs directed at another employee, you still have a right to file a claim. Additionally, a hostile work environment can happen when racial slurs, racial jokes, or racial stereotypes are made to someone of the same race.

Racial Slurs, Racial Jokes, Racial Symbols, and Offensive Racial Speech at Work

Many different types of racially-motivated comments can create a hostile work environment. Perhaps you heard a racial slur directed at your or someone else. Racial slurs are offensive words or phrases used to negatively describe people based on their race, skin color, faith, or country of origin. Racial jokes and racial cartoons portray someone in a negative way based on their race, color, country of origin, or faith. 

Finally, racial symbols portray racist beliefs, and they are almost always illegal in New York workplaces. Racial symbols can include Klu Klux Klan (KKK) hats or robes and Nazi paraphernalia, including swastikas. Nooses are also a symbol of racism. There have been recent incidents of people displaying nooses with the intent to intimidate African-American employees. Employees bringing a claim against their employer due to racial slurs and symbols need to prove that the harassment was severe or commonplace enough to alter their working conditions. 

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Multiple laws prohibit the use of racial slurs and symbols in the workplace. On the federal level, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits racial slurs and jokes that create a hostile, intimidating, or offensive work environment. Federal law also prohibits racial slurs, jokes, or comments that unreasonably affect an employee’s performance. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 only applies to employers with 15 or more employees. Plaintiffs who successfully submit a claim are entitled to compensatory damages. When the employer acted egregiously, the plaintiff may also be entitled to additional damages.

New York Laws That Prohibit Racial Slurs and Symbols in the Workplace

The New York Human Rights Law protects employees from racial slurs, symbols, comments, and offensive jokes directed at an employee’s race. This law is broader than Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Employers with four or more employees are subject to the anti-discrimination provisions of the law. Additionally, the New York City Human Rights Law prevents racially-based discrimination and harassment in the workplace. Like Title VII, successful claimants can recover compensatory and punitive damages. All of these laws and regulations have a statute of limitations. Claimants need to submit their claims within a certain time frame after the harassment occurs or risk losing their right to submit a claim.

If you have been exposed to racial slurs and symbols in your workplace, you may be wondering what you should do next. There are several different ways to go about enforcing your rights when it comes to racially-based harassment. The most important step you can take is to discuss your case with an experienced New York City employment lawyer. At Lipsky Lowe LLP, our lawyers have an in-depth understanding of all federal and local anti-discrimination laws. We will review your case and advise you as to your best legal option. 

Proving a Hostile Work Environment Claim

Victims of racial slurs and symbols need to prove that the harassment has created a hostile work environment. There is no hard and fast rule regarding how often an employee must be subjected to racial slurs or symbols for a hostile work environment to occur. In some cases, a court could find that a single, severe utterance could prove the existence of a hostile work environment.

An employee must prove that the racial slur or symbol was severe and pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment. However, employees do not have to prove that the conduct was both severe and ongoing for an extended period. Instead, employers must prove that the racially-motivated comments are either pervasive or severe. For example, a co-worker could use a slur in a severe enough manner to create a hostile work environment. In another case, the slurs may not be severe, but they could last for weeks, months, or even years.

Contact Our Experienced New York Employment Law Attorneys Today 

If you’ve experienced harassment in the form of racial slurs and symbols, you need the help of an experienced employment lawyer in your corner. At Lipsky Lowe LLP, we have a proven track record of helping clients who’ve experienced harassment in the workplace defend their rights and secure compensation. Contact our law firm today to schedule your initial consultation.