A recent survey completed by the New Jersey Business & Industry Association and Taft Communications revealed several interesting insights but one undeniably regrettable trend. The survey’s findings suggest that people are reportedly hearing more offensive comments at work. From a legal perspective, an offensive comment may not always be enough to establish a winning Law Against Discrimination case, but it can be an integral ingredient and, sometimes, just a single slur may be all the proof you need to win your case. A knowledgeable New Jersey employment attorney can help you analyze the facts of your case and determine what evidence you need to succeed.
The annual “State of Diversity Survey” asked workers how often they heard comments “that could be seen as offensive to racial and ethnic minorities; women; Muslims; Jews;” and LGBTQ+ people. Specifically, the survey asked workers, “have you overheard things at work that might be considered offensive to certain groups” during the past year?
The number of respondents, in all categories, who reported hearing these offensive comments either “occasionally” or “very often” was at the highest levels since the poll launched, and every category had a marked increase from last year. Workers who heard comments potentially offensive to racial and ethnic minorities rose 12% from last year to 28%. Respondents reported hearing misogynistic comments (up 10% to 24%), homophobic comments (up 11% to 23%), Islamophobic comments (up 13% to 23%) and anti-Semitic comments (up 10% to 20%), all of which were the highest levels ever recorded in the survey, which began in 2016.
While there some variations in who heard what (older workers were less likely to report hearing offensive comments than young workers and Republican workers were less likely to report hearing offensive comments than Democrats,) there was one commonality, which was a pronounced uptick in frequency of hearing these degrading and unhealthy comments.
What the law in New Jersey says you can do about offensive comments in the workplace
Against that background, it is useful to understand how the law in New Jersey can protect you if you are the victim of slurs, epithets, bigoted jokes or other inappropriate comments on the job. With regard to state law — the Law Against Discrimination — the law allows you to stand up and oppose bigoted or otherwise inappropriate comments. Not only can you do so when those comments target you or target a group of which you are a member, you are also entitled to do so free of retaliation when the words degrade a group of which you are not a member.
For example, in 2013, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of an employee who alleged a retaliatory demotion after objecting to a male supervisor’s use of misogynistic slurs like the B-word and the especially vulgar C-word. Even though the objecting employee was a man, and, in fact, no women were present when the supervisor used the anti-woman epithets, the high court stated that an employer cannot retaliate against its male employees who stand up against misogyny and oppose the use of misogynistic slurs in the workplace.
On the federal court side, it is important to know that, sometimes, even just a single slur may be enough for a winning case. In 2017, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals (whose rulings direct impact federal cases in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware,) said that federal anti-discrimination law (Title VII) requires that harassment be severe or pervasive, as opposed to severe and pervasive, and that even just one single use of the N-word may, by itself, meet that “severe” requirement and be the foundation of a successful lawsuit.
One would hope that, with increased awareness about the very real damage that racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic, transphobic, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic words can do, workers would purge such language from their discourse, at least at work. Sadly, reports like this recent State of Diversity Survey seem to say otherwise. If you’ve been harmed at work as a result of someone’s offensive comments, you need to take action. Call upon the experienced New Jersey employment attorneys at Phillips & Associates for the advice and legal advocacy you need. Our attorneys offer many years of experience in successfully litigating and settling discrimination and harassment cases. Contact us online or at (609) 436-9087 today to set up a free and confidential consultation to discuss how we can the power of this office to work for you.