The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit agreed that a Maryland woman had been subjected to an offensive racial slur at an Ocean City hotel where she worked. But the court nevertheless rejected her argument, noting that though the term directed at her – “porch monkey” – is offensive, it was used just twice in two days by another employee.
Those instances were insufficient to rise to the level of unlawful discrimination against the former hostess and server.
The court wrote that a hostile work environment is defined as a “permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim's employment and create an abusive working environment.”
In this case, the former hostess and server, who is black, had an argument with another employee. That other employee then called the former hostess “porch monkey” two times in two days.
The woman reported the incidents to the company’s HR department. She was later fired by the hotel for failing its bartender test and other performance-related issues.
A District Court later rejected the woman’s argument that she had been discriminated against and fired in retaliation for reporting the incidents. The court said the isolated incidents were insufficient to support her claims.
The Court of Appeals was unanimous in rejecting her appeal, noting that “hostile work environments generally result only after an accumulation of discrete instances of harassment.” The court concluded that if the slurs had continued, that might have been the basis of an argument that the work environment was hostile.
It should be added that the woman did the right thing by going to Human Resources with her complaint. That helped to establish a record of what had happened to her.
Anyone in a similar position should do the same. An experienced employment law attorney can clarify the viable legal options available.
Source: Lexology, "Fourth Circuit holds two racial slurs did not create hostile work environment at Ocean City Hotel," Michael L. Stevens and Karen S. Vladeck, May 27, 2014