We’d all like to hope that working professionals would, in this day and age, be past the point of using monkey images or monkey sounds as a way to taunt, tease, demean, or intimidate a Black coworker. Sadly, it’s not true. What’s more, many of these alleged instances of vile misconduct occur among the people who promised to protect and serve: the law enforcement community. Whether or not you work in a law enforcement capacity, you should not have to put with monkey jokes/references/pictures/etc. at work. If you have encountered these things on the job, you need to get in touch with an experienced New Jersey race discrimination lawyer right away.
Monkey references/images demean Black people by implying they’re more animal than human. Noose references/images intimidate Black workers by evoking the violence of the lynching of Black people, especially in the American South. In one New Jersey police facility, the perpetrator allegedly combined both of these offensive tropes, according to a report in The Trentonian.
The target, D.J., was a crime scene detective with the Trenton Police Department. During his time in that role, D.J. was the department’s only Black crime scene detective.
On March 29, 2014, the detective reported for work as usual, but immediately found something highly amiss. Hanging from the side wall of his work cubicle was a small plush monkey toy with a rubber band serving at its noose. Given the level of hostility he experienced in his workplace, the detective alleged that he felt he had no choice but to retire, which he did later that year.
In his ensuing lawsuit, the detective named his employer. When you seek to hold your employer liable for discrimination or harassment you endured at work, your case needs some additional elements beyond just proof that the alleged harassment/discrimination occurred.
For instance, if your supervisor was the perpetrator of the discrimination/harassment that harmed you, then you potentially can hold your employer liable if you can show that your employer failed to “have in place well-publicized and enforced anti-harassment policies, effective formal and informal complaint procedures, training, and/or monitoring mechanisms.” If the perpetrator was a non-supervisory employee, you’ll need evidence that your employer “failed to prevent and redress harassment” and/or discrimination.
In D.J.’s case, he presented ample support for this element. The detective’s complaint indicated that no member of the police force — not even his supervisor at the time — did anything to report the transgression or to stop it.
Eventually, confronted by the powerful legal case that the detective presented, the city elected to settle, agreeing to pay D.J. $1 million, The Trentonian reported.
Noses and Other Images of Hanging: ‘Not Unreasonable’ to View Them as Threats
The detective wasn’t the first public employee in Trenton to experience this sort of discrimination. Several years earlier, a group of Trenton Water Work employees sued for the race-based harassment they endured at their workplace. The incidents allegedly included the appearance of a “rubber monkey puppet,” a brown “hangman mannequin made out of wire that was attached to a hanging rope,” and a picture of a hangman’s gallows.
The Appellate Division court issued a ruling in 2008 in favor of the Black workers. The court explained that to have a viable case of racial discrimination/harassment, the workers must demonstrate that a reasonable person would view the workplace as hostile. The court went on to state that it “would not be unreasonable for a reasonable African-American employee to take these statements and actions as threats.”
Earlier this year, Wall Township and its insurer agreed to pay $1 million to the estate of one of its police dispatchers. The dispatcher alleged that he was the target of numerous racist slurs, racist drawings (including ones depicting Ku Klux Klansmen engaging in violence against Black people,) and comparisons between the dispatcher and “monkeys, apes, and gorillas.”
What made the dispatcher’s case unique was that he was not actually Black, but was an Italian-American of Sicilian ancestry with a dark complexion and medical problems that made his skin appear even darker. The dispatcher, despite not being of African ancestry, prevailed because, regardless of his actual race, the conduct met all the legal elements of a racially hostile workplace.
No one should have to put up with KKK imagery, monkeys, nooses, Nazi symbols, and the like at their place of work. If that’s happened to you, it’s possible that you experienced conduct that violated city, state, and/or federal law. The skilled New Jersey race discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates are here to help, giving you the knowledgeable advice you need and the diligent advocacy you deserve. Contact us online or at (833) 529-3476 today to set up a free and confidential consultation.