What you say to an employee can cost you money

Author: Stephen D. Hans

A New York jury awarded $30,000 in punitive damages and $250,000 in compensatory damage  to an employee in an employer discrimination case that centered around the use of the N-word.  Brandi Johnson, an African-American, filed a lawsuit in New York after she was subjected to a tirade and called the N-word several times by her boss, Rob Carmona, the founder of the non-profit employment agency, STRIVE International.

Ms. Johnson told jurors that Carmona repeatedly used the word during a March 2012 tirade about inappropriate workplace attire and unprofessional behavior.  According to the complaint Carmona’s tirade was triggered by Johnson’s defense of a STRIVE program graduate who had allegedly been sexually harassed by a STRIVE employee.  Ms. Johnson taped the remarks after her complaints about Carmona’s verbal abuse were disregarded.

Carmona, the employer, said he was only trying to help Johnson, and that his remarks were consistent with the “tough-love culture” he established at the East Harlem center.  He testified that he uses the N-word with his friends.  “That means my boy, I love him, or whatever.”  He added that he was indicating love when he used the word with Johnson.

After the verdict, STRIVE issued a statement that said it was disappointed but was exploring its options, including an appeal.  The statement also cited Johnson as a “prime example of the second chances that STRIVE provides to both its participants and nonparticipants alike.”  Noting that Johnson, was employed there despite a previous conviction for grand larceny that required her to pay about $100,000 in restitution.  The judge barred lawyers from telling jurors about the conviction.

The controversy is a blemish on STRIVE, which has been heralded for helping people with troubled backgrounds get into the workforce—and claims to have helped nearly 50,000 people find work since 1984.

Discuss your employee disputes with a NY employment law attorney

In the workplace there are no givens on what type of language you may use with an employee.  An experienced NY employment law attorney can help you determine about appropriate language policies and other employment matters that can protect you and your company.  To discuss employee disputes, investigations or lawsuits contact us online or call 718-275-6700 to schedule a consultation today

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