- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A federal jury ruled that saying the “N-word” in the workplace — no matter the ethnicity of the person who uses it — is hostile and discriminatory, and not a term of endearment. The ruling clarifies what some have called a confusing double standard for years — that blacks can say the N-word with impunity, but if other races do, it’s blatant discrimination.

Jurors in Manhattan awarded $250,000 in damages and compensation last week to a black employment agency worker, Brandi Johnson, 38, who was subjected to an N-word rant from her black employer, Rob Carmona, The Associated Press reported. On Tuesday, the case heads back to federal court to determine the punitive damage amount.

Ms. Johnson said through her attorney that the rant was a “four-minute [N-word] tirade,” that sent her to the bathroom to cry for 45 minutes.

She testified: “I was offended. I was hurt. I felt degraded. I felt disrespected. I was embarrassed,” AP reported.

Her attorney said, during closing arguments, that “when you use the [N-word] to an African-American, no matter how many alternative definitions that you may try to substitute with the [N-word], that is no different than calling a Hispanic by the worst possible word you can call a Hispanic, calling a homosexual male the worst possible word that you can call a homosexual male,” AP reported.

Defense attorneys tried to paint Mr. Carmona as a victim of his environment, which included a tough New York City upbringing by a single mother that led to his addiction to heroin. He overcame that addiction, but said the N-word had been part and parcel of his growing up years, and that it meant different things in different settings.

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For instance, he testified, AP reported, he might put his arm around a longtime friend and say “This is my [N-word] for 30 years.” The word has “multiple contexts,” he said. He also said that word has affectionate and love connotations — and it was in that tone, that he said it to Ms. Johnson.

Mr. Carmona’s business is called STRIVE East Harlem, and he founded it as a means of helping those of fewer means with ability to gain employment.

The ruling only applies to that particular case, but judicial analysts say it could have far-reaching effects on how similar situations are treated in workplaces around the nation.

• Cheryl K. Chumley can be reached at cchumley@washingtontimes.com.

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