Even here in 21st Century New Jersey, race discrimination in workplaces persists. One form of discrimination that crops up too often is grossly improper attempts at “humor.” Despite what some may say, lynching “jokes” simply are never funny and they have the potential to inflict massive harm upon Black workers in that workplace. Whether it was the N-word, a noose, a monkey image, a lynching joke, or some other discriminatory joke or comment, it’s not something you should have to put up with at work. Get in touch with an experienced New Jersey race discrimination lawyer to protect yourself and your rights.
The recent settlement of a race discrimination case from South Jersey is yet another example. As reported by nj.com, L.J., the plaintiff in the case, was a worker with the parks department of a township in Gloucester County. L.J. was also an African-American man who allegedly endured, during his employment with the parks department, a relentless onslaught of racially discriminatory comments at work.
According to the employee’s complaint, the comments included references to his propensity to steal (solely due to his race,) usage of the racially offensive “boy,” and statements that L.J. (as a Black man) looked “like someone in Philadelphia with his hood on [who] was looking for rape.” Additionally, the man’s coworkers allegedly made comments about lynching, making reference to placing a chain around L.J.’s neck and “letting him swing.”
L.J. complained to higher-ups about the jokes and comments, but sufficient action was not taken, according to his lawsuit. That’s a frequent problem. Too many times, employers, when presented with these kinds of displays of discrimination or harassment, simply brush them aside as harmless jokes or pranks.
Sometimes, Just One Occurrence Qualifies as ‘Severe’
If you are pursuing a hostile work environment case based upon the racist jokes, comments, images, etc. that you’ve encountered at work, one of the key things you need to do is to demonstrate that the discrimination or harassment you experienced at work was severe or pervasive. (New York has eliminated the requirement that plaintiffs prove the discrimination they suffered was severe or pervasive but, in New Jersey, that requirement remains.)
Racial epithets are often considered one of the most extreme forms of discrimination in the workplace. A few years ago, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, whose rulings directly control federal cases in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware, decided that just a single utterance of the N-word, when said in front of Black workers by their supervisor, was severe enough to permit the workers to maintain their race discrimination case. More recently, the New Jersey Supreme Court allowed a Latino man to pursue his race discrimination case that was based upon his supervisor’s using anti-Latino slurs on two occasions.
Similar to these racial slur cases, cases involving nooses and/or lynching jokes can also meet that “severe” requirement, even if they occurred only infrequently. The noose (and the lynching it inherently implies) is especially problematic because it not only conjures up the ugliness of racism, it also contains an inextricable implication of the threat of violence (and violent death.)
Deciding When to Go Forward… and When to Settle
L.J.’s evidence was sufficient enough that the township decided it was best not to pursue the case to a judgment Instead, the township and the worker negotiated a settlement in which L.J. received the sum of $300,000.
The outcome of L.J.’s case is a useful reminder that, in addition to assisting you in putting together and filing your original lawsuit complaint and in advocating for you at trial, your legal counsel serves another vital purpose: assisting you in weighing the “plusses” and “minuses” of settling your case versus litigating it all the way to a judgment.
Sometimes, litigating a case to judgment isn’t the best choice. A settlement allows you to get paid, move on with your life, avoid the stress of continued litigation and avoid the time cost that would inherently come from continued litigation. Of course, these benefits are not enough to justify giving up your case for a “low-ball” settlement offer. However, if the offer is a fair one, getting closure and accepting the settlement may make sense for you.
Differentiating those “low-ball” offers from the fair ones is where your attorney’s experience helps immensely. Your attorney can put his/her past years handling cases to use to assess the value of your case if it were to go to trial, and then help you parse fair settlement offers from unfair ones.
Count on the skilled New Jersey race discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates to be the knowledgeable and experienced counsel you need to help you make those critical settling-versus-litigating decisions and, when necessary, advocate zealously for you in court. Contact us online or at (609) 436-9087 today to set up a free and confidential consultation.