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A single slur could create a hostile work environment

New York employees might be able to file a lawsuit on the grounds that they are facing a hostile work environment on the basis of a single comment if that slur is particularly offensive. A federal appellate court disagreed with a lower court ruling that a single slur could not constitute a hostile environment.

The case involved a man who said he had faced discrimination at work on the basis of both his race and sex. In addition to calling him by a racial slur, the man's employer harassed him based on what the employer believed to be his sexual orientation. Although the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed an amicus curiae on the man's behalf, he represented himself in federal district court. After that court granted the employer summary judgment, the man appealed. The 2nd Circuit declined to rule on whether the slur constituted a hostile work environment but said that the lower court could not dismiss it because it happened only once. The court also ruled that actions that might not otherwise appear hostile out of context could support a claim of discrimination.

Employees should keep in mind that rude comments may not be illegal. They must be severe or based on a person's membership in a protected class.

Since there are a number of elements to identifying what constitutes illegal workplace harassment and discrimination, people who believe they are facing it in the workplace might want to review their rights with an attorney. Furthermore, as this case suggests, even a single incident might be enough to support a claim that the workplace is a hostile environment. If aggrieved employees face retaliation or their workplace does not respond effectively to their claim of harassment, they may want to file a lawsuit.

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