Phillips & Associates

Marjorie Mesidor Discusses Hate Crimes and Sexual Orientation Discrimination After Jussie Smollet Assault

Marjorie Mesidor
Phillips & Associates Partner, Marjorie Mesidor appeared on Entertainment Tonight to weigh in on the recent reports of an assault on award winning actor Jussie Smollet.
New York City Lawyers Fighting for Employee Rights

There has been a recent increase in reports of hate crimes arising out of a victim’s sexual orientation or race. Recently, Jussie Smollett, an actor on the television show “Empire,” was victimized in a racist, homophobic attack in Chicago. He was hit in the face by two masked men who were shouting racist and homophobic slurs, including the phrase “MAGA country.” They poured something on him and put a noose around his neck. The police are investigating this event as a possible hate crime. Sometimes hate crimes related to sexual orientation discrimination occur at work. When this happens, our New York City sexual orientation discrimination lawyers can help an employee bring a claim. Recently, Phillips & Associates partner Marjorie Mesidor made an appearance on television to discuss the Smollett incident and hate crimes more generally.

What Makes a Crime a Hate Crime?

Marjorie Mesidor discussed with a reporter what makes an assault a hate crime rather than a simple assault. The reporter remarked that the police had told them that the incident was being investigated as a possible hate crime, but it had not been classified as such yet, and they asked Ms. Mesidor what the difference is between an assault and a hate crime.

Ms. Mesidor said that the added element in a hate crime, beyond a regular assault, is that the perpetrator intended to inflict bodily harm on someone because of an actual or perceived protected characteristic. After an incident is categorized as a hate crime, it will be treated as a Class 4 felony in Illinois. An attack may be considered a hate crime even if there are other motivating factors besides sexual orientation or another protected characteristic.

Was This Incident a Hate Crime?

The reporter asked whether, given the homophobic slurs, the incident should be classified as a hate crime or an assault. Ms. Mesidor responded that it likely met the requirements for a hate crime. It is unusual for a perpetrator to state why they are committing the crime in the middle of doing it. However, you can look at the context and infer a hate crime from what the perpetrator says and does. The use of a homophobic slur suggests that there was a hate crime based on sexual orientation. Even so, police departments are reluctant to declare something a hate crime. In 2016, the FBI only received 6,000 hate crime reports, even though in the same year, 250,000 hate crimes had taken place.

Ms. Mesidor explained that there are various reasons why this kind of severe underreporting might happen. Sometimes local police are not properly trained in how to distinguish between regular crimes and hate crimes. Sometimes homophobic slurs are viewed as insults, rather than comments with discriminatory intent. Additionally, some people do not want FBI oversight over investigations.

The reporter asked how common it is for a victim to hesitate about coming forward. Ms. Mesidor remarked that the overwhelming majority of hate crimes do not get reported. The victim in this case had already reported, which put the matter within the district attorney or prosecutor’s discretion regarding which crimes to charge. The community and the public should put pressure on a district attorney or prosecutor to do the right thing.

Crimes, including hate crimes, need to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. This is a tough standard because somebody’s freedom is at stake. It needs to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the crime occurred due to the victim’s sexual orientation.

Employment Lawsuits

When a hate crime based on the victim’s sexual orientation occurs on the job, it may be sexual orientation discrimination against the victim. For example, if the victim is targeted for assault by coworkers in the workplace because they are gay, lesbian, or bisexual, this may be a hate crime based on sexual orientation discrimination. Although it may be difficult to prove that the reason for the conduct was a discriminatory intent, many of the same evidentiary issues arise in the context of workplace sexual orientation discrimination. There is a lower standard of proof in employment litigation than there is in a criminal context.

Seek Advice from a Sexual Orientation Discrimination Lawyer in New York City

Our skillful trial lawyers pursue the recovery of damages arising out of hate crimes and sexual orientation discrimination in workplaces in New York City and beyond. Call Phillips & Associates at (212) 248-7431 or contact us through our online form. We handle employment cases in the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Westchester County, Long Island, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

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

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