Single Use of N-word Can Create Hostile Work Environment


The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit found that a single sufficiently severe racial epithet might be enough to create a hostile work environment in violation of Section 1981.

In Castleberry v. STI Group, the 3rd Circuit first clarified that a viable hostile work environment harassment claim requires conduct that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the work environment and interfere with the employee’s performance. Relying upon Supreme Court precedent, it rejected the trial court’s holding that the conduct must be both severe and pervasive.

Next, the federal courts generally have found that isolated racial epithets do not meet the severe or pervasive standard. The 3rd Circuit, however, recognized the possibility that a single use of the “N” word by a supervisor might be enough to support a hostile work environment claim. This ruling, which follows a recent similar ruling from the 2nd Circuit as discussed in our May 2017 E-Update, potentially makes it easier for employees to establish a claim of a racially hostile work environment.