As a person of color, one understands that racial discrimination in the workplace can come from many different directions. Perhaps it is a coworker, a supervisor, or your employer. Other times, though, the racial animus you encounter comes from people outside your employer’s direct control. The law allows you to pursue race discrimination cases against your employer based on the acts of third parties (such as clients/customers, vendors, and contractors,) if the employer was negligent in controlling your workplace. If you’ve encountered racial hostility at work, regardless of who did it, you may have a potential legal case, so you should get in touch a knowledgeable New York City race discrimination lawyer right away.
S.C. was a Black female home health aide who encountered a hostile workplace perpetrated by a client. Six months into her job, she received a phone call from a care manager, who assigned S.C. to work two 12-hour shifts at the home of an 88-year-old woman in Manhattan who suffered from dementia.
The woman who assigned S.C. to the dementia patient told the aide that the patient “could become agitated very quickly” as a result of her dementia. What the care manager did not tell the aide, however, was that the client’s history was more complicated and problematic than that. According to the aide, the employer had a years-long file on the client and her history of “targeting Black people or people of color… with malicious conduct, which included frivolous 911 reports triggered by the client’s racial hatred.” According to S.C., she would have declined the assignment if she had known the truth about the client.
The aide arrived at the home, relieving a white aide – whom the client allegedly treated with kindness as she left. The client allegedly treated S.C. with hostility, antipathy, and disrespect from the beginning of the shift. That included the client swinging a cane at the aide, which S.C. only avoided by taking evasive action, according to the aide’s lawsuit. Less than four hours into the shift, the client called 911.
The aide ended up having to leave the apartment building shortly thereafter.
In 2021, the aide sued the employer on the basis of a racially hostile work environment. In the aide’s case, S.C. argued that the employer was liable for the client’s conduct because the employer knew about the problem but did not take appropriate steps to address it. S.C. had the necessary support for that argument, with detailed pleadings about how the employer had known for years about the client’s hostility and violence toward Black aides and other aides of color.
The employer argued in its defense that, based on the actions it took, it could not be liable for the client’s misconduct and that, even if it could, the client’s actions were not sufficiently severe to satisfy the “severe or pervasive” requirement.
Employer’s Permission to Leave and Expression of Regret Didn’t Mitigate its Knowledge
The court rejected both of these employer arguments. The court pointed out that, while the employer was correct that its care managers acted promptly in giving S.C. permission to leave the assignment early and expressed sincere regret for the client’s inappropriate behavior, those facts did not mitigate the employer’s alleged knowledge of the client’s years-long racist history and its own history of allowing her to terrorize it aides.
With regard to the severity of the client’s misconduct, the judge pointed out that, back in 2000, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that even just a single discriminatory verbal outburst potentially can be enough to qualify as severe. (In that case, the wrongdoer was a male police officer who went on a very loud and very public “tirade” complaining that the plaintiff (a female colleague) only received her promotion to lieutenant as a result of the sex acts she performed on certain men.)
In S.C.’s case, the cane attack alone would have been enough to qualify as severe; the additional alleged acts of racial hostility only served to augment the aide’s case, according to the judge.
The judge also expressly explained that the law requires, in hostile work environment cases like this, the court to take a holistic approach to the discrimination the worker alleged. Rather breaking down the client’s transgressions into discrete “snapshots” as the employer did in its defense, the law requires the court to consider all the complained-of conduct together as a whole.
If you endured race-based hostility at work, whether your harasser was your boss, your colleague, or your client/customer, you may potentially be entitled to sue and recover compensation. The experienced New York race discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates are here to help, providing you with the useful advice and diligent advocacy your case deserves. To find out more, contact us online or at (866) 229-9441 to set up a free and confidential consultation today.