How bad do things have to get before you have an illegally hostile work environment?
A Hispanic marketing worker alleged that his direct supervisor twice directed racial slurs at him.
The supervisor allegedly made the slurs approximately a month apart.
First, upon learning that the worker was planning to buy a house, the supervisor allegedly said, “It must be hard for a Spic to have to get FHA loans.”
Second, the same supervisor allegedly said that an actress who was auditioning for a role in a company commercial “would work if she didn’t look too Spicky.”
The supervisor denied making either statement.
The worker said the director of human resources was dismissive when the worker complained to him about the alleged slurs.
PIP follows complaint to HR
The supervisor then placed the worker on a performance improvement plan.
The employer fired him soon thereafter, purportedly for poor job performance.
The worker sued, alleging hostile work environment under state law.
A lower court ruled against him. It found that the alleged slurs were not severe or pervasive enough to state a hostile work environment claim that could go to a jury.
The worker filed an appeal.
The state’s highest court reversed the lower court’s decision. It remanded the case for further proceedings.
The court said the state law against discrimination must be construed liberally. It said the alleged remarks were highly offensive and demeaning from the perspective of an objectively reasonable Hispanic person.
Next, the court said that an offensive remark is worse when a supervisor utters it. Such comments “could taint every interaction that followed between an employee and a direct supervisor,” the court added.
In addition, the worker said that nothing happened when he reported the alleged misconduct.
The worker can take his case to a jury, the court ruled.
Rios v. Meda Pharmaceutical, Inc., 247 N.J. 1 (N.J. 2021).