The Massachusetts Appeals Court today overturned a judgment against a worker who had sued Harvard Vanguard for discrimination, ruling he has the right to make his case to a jury that having a supervisor call him "a dirty fucking nigger" was proof of workplace discrimination against him.
At issue in Darrel Green's suit against the insurer is what happened after he complained to HR in 2005 that he was only being given 20 hours of week at its Kenmore Square health center instead of the 40 he says he'd been promised when hired. Green alleges that not long after he talked to somebody in HR, his supervisor went up to him and demanded to know, "Who do you think you are? Who do you think they are going to believe, me, a valued employee of over ten years or a dirty fucking nigger?"
According to the ruling, Harvard Vanguard did not dispute Green immediately complained to HR that the supervisor had called him "nigger," although it disputed whether he prefaced that with "dirty fucking." A lower-court judge dismissed Green's suit, agreeing with the insurer that he effectively absolved it by signing a severance agreement not to bring any claim against it.
However, the appeals justices said Green had made a strong enough case to warrant a trial, such as by also alleging that in addition to the written settlement, he was orally promised a job in another Harvard Vanguard department - and was promptly given a job in cardiology for which he said upfront he was unqualified and from which he was quickly fired for that reason.
But the justices said that even absent that potential fraud, the use of "the racial epithet that is widely regarded as the most hateful and offensive in our culture" alone is enough to warrant a trial - and that a written agreement that effectively violates state anti-discrimination laws by blocking any actions is not legal:
As we explained just last year, "a supervisor who calls a black subordinate a 'fucking nigger' has engaged in conduct so powerfully offensive" that liability for racial discrimination under [state anti-discrimination laws], may be based "on a single instance. That term inflicts cruel injury by its very utterance. It is degrading, it is humiliating, and it is freighted with a long and shameful history of humiliation, the ugly effects of which continue to haunt us all. The words have no legitimate place in the working environment--indeed, they have no legitimate place--and there is no conceivable justification for their use by a workplace supervisor." ...
The use of these disgusting, demeaning, and humiliating words, and the impact of their use upon those to whom they are directed, is a grave matter. Among the purposes of our Commonwealth's antidiscrimination laws is the elimination from the workplace of this offensive and hurtful racial epithet--and of all others--and of the discriminatory injury inhering in their use.