A Manhattan federal jury ruled that the N-word is discriminatory in the workplace and not a "term of endearment" when spoken by either black or whites.
Brandi Johnson sued her boss, Rob Carmona, president of the East Harlem nonprofit STRIVE, after he repeatedly referred to her as a “n----r.”
The 38-year-old single mother was awarded $280,000 in punitive damages Tuesday on top of $250,000 the court already ordered Carmona, 61, to pay her.
The jury heard a March 2012 recording Johnson took of a 4-minute rant in which Carmona called her and a coworker the N-word in order to criticize their conduct and attire.
“I’m not saying, using the term ‘n----r’ derogatory, ’cause sometimes it’s good to know when to act like a n----r. But y’all act like n-----s all the time,” Carmona said.
“I was offended. I was hurt. I felt degraded. I felt disrespected. I was embarrassed,” Johnson testified. She said she told her boss that she was offended.
“You can be offended, but it’s true,” he responded. “You and her act like n-----s. And n-----s let their feelings rule them.”
Carmon admitted to making the comments, but he called the tirade “tough love.”
The case sparked a national debate over whether the N-word is only discriminatory in the workplace if it is uttered by a white person.
Johnson’s attorney, Marjorie M. Sharpe, said the color of the employees’ skin is not important.
“When you use the word n----r to an African-American, no matter how many alternative definitions that you may try to substitute with the word n----r, 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,” Sharpe said in her closing argument.
Carmona argued that the term has changed
“I come from a different time … and this showed me that I really have to take stock of that at my age,” Carmona tearfully told the court.
He said he may refer to an old friend as “my n----r for 30 years.”
“That means my boy, I love him, or whatever,” he said. When asked if he meant the word to indicate love when he was speaking with Johnson, he said, “Yes, I did.”