Phillips & Associates

Emojis and Race Discrimination

Experienced New York City Lawyers Ready to Fight for Your Rights

Emojis are small drawings that are supposed to represent emotions and common objects. They are often used in emails and on texts, and sometimes they are printed on T-shirts or other apparel. They have become ubiquitous, but in the workplace, employers should ensure that the use of emojis by employees is appropriate. If you were a victim of race discrimination involving the use of emojis in the workplace, you should consult the New York City race discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates.

Race Discrimination Can Involve Emojis

A majority of Americans use emojis or stickers when texting or messaging each other. However, these visual representations and symbols may not be acceptable in the workplace, particularly when the emoji has racial connotations. Emojis are a kind of ambiguous shorthand, and they carry different meanings to different people. For example, while a white employee may believe that she is suggesting racial solidarity by using an emoji with a black fist or dark-skinned hands in prayer, the person receiving it may consider it digital blackface, a microaggression. Similarly, many workers may use GIFs involving black people or celebrities without thinking about the racial experience of the recipient. Emojis of nooses, monkeys, or other offensive racial symbols sent to or about a black recipient may be interpreted by them as racial harassment and bullying.

Because of their potential offensiveness and unprofessional nature, emojis should not be used, or used only sparingly and judiciously, in work communications. They can convey inappropriate thoughts from one employee to another, or from a supervisor to a subordinate. These images, when they involve race, may be evidence of race discrimination. When emoji use is racist as well as pervasive and severe, it could create a hostile work environment.

Race discrimination occurs when somebody is treated unfavorably due to their race or due to personal characteristics associated with race, such as skin color, hair texture, or other features. Closely related is color discrimination. Under Title VII, discrimination can occur even when the victim and the perpetrator are the same race or color. One form of racial discrimination is harassment.

Race discrimination and harassment are prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law. Harassment can include racial slurs, the display of racially offensive symbols, or offensive or derogatory remarks. The harasser can be a coworker, a supervisor, a client, a customer, or a manager. There is no prohibition on teasing or mild, isolated incidents under any of these laws. However, when offensive remarks and other harassment are so frequent or severe that a hostile work environment is created, or an adverse employment decision results, it can be actionable under one or more of these laws.

If you believe that you are a victim of workplace race harassment, you should ask the perpetrator of the harassment to stop. It can be difficult to call out racial harassment on the job, but the key is to make it clear to the harasser that the behavior is unwelcome. The person may stop using the emojis that you find offensive, or they may not. You should also use whichever grievance procedures are stated in your employment handbook to report an incident of racial harassment. Generally, it is best to memorialize the notification in writing so that your attorney can show that your employer knew about the racial harassment.

Each of these three laws has its own nuances and its own remedies. Generally, the most expansive law, and the law that is interpreted most liberally by courts, is the New York City Human Rights Law. Under this law, you may be able to recover damages, including back pay and front pay, and in cases of egregious harassment or discrimination, you may be able to recover punitive damages.

Seek Assistance from a Race Discrimination Attorney in New York City

At Phillips & Associates, our experienced lawyers help New York City workers with many different kinds of employment discrimination claims, including those related to emojis and race discrimination. If you believe that you have been a victim of race discrimination and harassment, contact us at (212) 248-7431 or through our online form to set up a free consultation. We handle employment litigation in the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and Manhattan, as well as in Westchester, Nassau, and Suffolk Counties and in many areas of New Jersey.

45 Broadway, #620,
New York NY, 10006
Tel: 212-248-7431
Fax: 212-901-2107
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