Jury Rules The N-Word Can’t Be Used As A Term Of Endearment Among Blacks In The Workplace
There has long been a heated debate over the use of the “N” word. If blacks use it, why can’t whites? Should blacks use it with each other? Should blacks stop using the word all together?
The “N” word is now at the center of a legal battle. The case against Rob Carmona and his employment agency, STRIVE East Harlem, focused on when–and if–the usage of the “N” word is ever appropriate. (Carmona is featured in the video above.) A federal jury has rejected a black manager’s argument that it was a term of love and endearment when he aimed it at a black employee, reports NBC New York.
In fact, jurors awarded $30,000 in punitive damages ($25,000 from Carmona and $5,000 from STRIVE) after finding that the manager’s four-minute rant was not loving, but hostile and discriminatory. The jury also awarded $250,000 in compensatory damages.
Brandi Johnson, 38, felt that Carmona’s being black didn’t make usage of the slur any less hurtful when he repeatedly targeted her during a March 2012 outburst about inappropriate workplace attire and unprofessional behavior. Johnson actually started taping Carmona’s remarks after her complaints about his verbal abuse were pushed aside. She said after this particular tirade, she fled to the restroom where she cried for 45 minutes.
“I was offended. I was hurt. I felt degraded. I felt disrespected. I was embarrassed,” Johnson told jurors.
Johnson’s lawyer, Marjorie M. Sharpe, told reporters she hoped the case sent a strong message to those who “have tried to take the sting out of the N-word. … It’s the most offensive word in the English language.”
“When you use the word N-Word to an African-American, no matter how many alternative definitions that you may try to substitute with the word 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,” Sharpe told jurors.
However, Carmona’s lawyers said the 61-year-old black man of Puerto Rican descent had a very different experience with the word. He was raised by a single mother in a New York City public housing project and became addicted to heroin in his teens. He got off of drugs with the help of drug counselors who employed tough love and equally tough language. He went on to earn a master’s degree from Columbia University then co-founded STRIVE in the 1980s. Most of STRIVE’s employees are black women.
During his testimony, Carmona defended his use of the word, saying he used it with Johnson to convey that she was “too emotional.” He went on to explain, that the word has “multiple contexts” in the black and Latino communities, sometimes indicating anger, sometimes love.
Sharpe fired back and told jurors that STRIVE’s tough-love program is no excuse for Carmona’s behavior.
“Well, if calling a person a N-Word and subjecting them to a hostile work environment is part of STRIVE’s tough love, then STRIVE needs to be reminded that this type of behavior is illegal and cannot be tolerated,” she told jurors.
How do you feel about Carmona’s use of the “N” word in the workplace? You can listen to Carmona’s recording of the conversation, c/o the New York Daily News, below.