In a case that dealt with use of the N-word among blacks, a federal jury determined that the word's use in the workplace is hostile and discriminatory no matter who says it.
Jurors were weighing punitive damages Tuesday against STRIVE East Harlem, a program that helps underprivileged people find work. The jury awarded $250,000 in compensatory damages to Brandi Johnson, 38, who taped a racist tirade laden with the N-word that her boss Rob Camona went on at work. Both Johnson and Camona are African-American, the Associated Press reported.
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Camona claimed during the trial that the N-word has "multiple contexts" in the black and Latino communities, sometimes indicating anger, sometimes love, the Associated Press reported.
"When you use the word n— to an African-American, no matter how many alternative definitions that you may try to substitute with the word n—, that is no different than calling a Hispanic by the worst possible word you can call a Hispanic, calling a homosexual male the worst possible word that you can call a homosexual male," Johnson's attorney Marjorie M. Sharpe told the jury.
Sharpe said that Carmona's use of the word was intended to offend "and any evidence that defendants put forth to the contrary is simply ridiculous."
STRIVE has been credited with helping people with troubled backgrounds get into the workforce, the Associated Press reported. The program, described in a "60 Minutes" piece as "part boot camp, part group therapy," claims to have helped nearly 50,000 people find work since 1984.
Sharpe told jurors that STRIVE's tough-love program cannot excuse Carmona's behavior.
The use of the N-word was disputed in a lawsuit against Paula Deen this summer. Deen, a white celebrity chef, admitted to using the word in the past and was acquitted in a case her employee filed against her.
By the time a federal judge in Savannah, Ga. dismissed the federal lawsuit in late August, Deen had lost her popular television cooking show
on the Food Network, a book deal, and numerous endorsements because of her deposition.
U.S. District Court Judge William T. Moore Jr. closed the case "with prejudice," meaning former Deen employee Lisa Jackson can't sue again over the same issues.
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