Phillips & Associates

Racist Images and Paraphernalia

Race Discrimination Lawyers Serving New York City and Surrounding Areas

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law prohibit race discrimination. There are nuances to each of these laws and the remedies associated with each of them differ. Racist images and paraphernalia in the workplace — such as nooses, threats of hanging or being lynched, and use of the n-word — may amount to racial harassment, which is a form of race discrimination. At Phillips & Associates, our New York City racial discrimination lawyers can evaluate your situation and determine whether you have a claim, as well as which law or laws might apply. Call our office today for a free evaluation of your situation at 212-248-7431.

Racist Images and Paraphernalia in the Workplace Under Federal and State Laws

Unfortunately race discrimination in the workplace is a common occurrence. Racist images and paraphernalia in the workplace may constitute hostile work environment harassment. When deciding whether an environment is so hostile that it violates Title VII, courts will look at all of the circumstances to decide whether the harassment is severe or pervasive enough to change the employment conditions and create an abusive working environment. However, under the broader and more liberal NYCHRL, which we will discuss further below, an employee merely has to show that the racist conduct is above a petty slight or trivial inconvenience. You should discuss any incidents of racial discrimination to understand your rights.

There is no requirement that the racist conduct be directed at the plaintiff. In fact, when racial hostility pervades a workplace, a plaintiff can establish a Title VII violation even if the hostility was not directed toward them. A hostile work environment can exist regardless of the target of the harassing actions, as long as the actions have the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with your work performance or developing an offensive, hostile, or intimidating work environment. In other words, even if someone else was the subject of the discriminatory act, you might have a Title VII claim if you were forced to work in an environment in which the racial harassment was pervasive.

Under federal and state laws, but not under New York City law, you will need to show that the work atmosphere was not just subjectively hostile but also objectively hostile and abusive. Furthermore, an isolated incident usually is not enough to create a hostile work environment unless it is of sufficient severity to alter the terms and conditions of employment. In order to be actionable under federal and state laws, in most cases, they need to be continuous enough and concerted enough to be considered pervasive.

The court will look at the whole record and the totality of the circumstances, including whether the racist images and paraphernalia were frequent, severe, and physically threatening or humiliating, and whether they unreasonably interfered with your job performance.

New York City Law Provides Broader Protection to Employees to than Federal or State Laws

The standard for a hostile work environment under the New York City Human Rights Law is much broader. In fact, you do not need to show that the treatment was severe or pervasive, but instead you must show that you were treated less well than your coworkers and others in the workplace because of your protected characteristic. For instance, your attorney simply needs to show that the fact that you are black made you a target of racist images and paraphernalia. If you are able to make this showing, the defendant can only avoid liability by showing that the conduct that you are describing consisted of nothing more than what a reasonable employee would consider petty slights and trivial inconveniences.

Under this standard, a single noose, a single use of the n-word, or a single racialized threat may be sufficient to constitute a hostile work environment. Not all courts agree on this issue, but generally, the noose is considered among the most repugnant of racist symbols because it is an instrument that was historically used for racially-motivated violence. This is especially true for a black employee because the noose remains a potent and life-threatening symbol for black people as a group. Similarly, the n-word is understood to be an explicit and unambiguous slur. Many courts in New York have determined that a single display of a noose, even without any other racist images or paraphernalia, is enough to sustain a claim for hostile work environment.

Get Advice from a Racial Harassment Attorney in New York City

Our experienced attorneys are sensitive to the pain of racial harassment. We are also very familiar with these types of cases and can advise you on your options for legal recourse if you have been forced to deal with racist images and paraphernalia in the workplace. Call us at (212) 248-7431 or contact us via our online form. We fight employment discrimination in the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Staten Island, as well as in Westchester, Nassau, and Suffolk Counties and in New Jersey. We do not charge upfront fees to our clients, and we provide free consultations.

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