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Can i sue my employer for someone calling me a racial slur and not firing that person

Norfolk, VA |
Attorney answers 3


Based on your question, your employer did not do anything to injure you. You must be injured to have a basis to sue. You should inform your employer of the incident and any other similar comments.

I have been licensed to practice in the State of Oregon since 1990. I am not offering legal advice regarding your question, only general information regarding the law. You are not my client nor am I your attorney unless we sign a retainer agreement.


You should certainly complain to your employer, and make a written note of when and to whom you complained. Your employer is then obligated to investigate and take appropriate corrective action. However, your employer doesn't necessarily have to fire the coworker, if some lesser form of discipline or training is enough to change the coworker's behavior. If the coworker engages in the same type of behavior in the future, then make a written note of what happened, when, and any witnesses -- and let your employer know. If the behavior persists and it becomes clear that your employer in unable or unwilling to prevent it, then you could file a charge of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Good luck.


I am a California attorney and cannot give legal advice in your state. My comments are information only, based on federal law and general legal principles. YOUR STATE MAY HAVE ITS OWN LAWS THAT OFFER SIMILAR OR GREATER PROTECTION. If I mention your state’s laws, it only means I did a quick Internet search and found something that looked relevant. You MUST check with an attorney licensed in your state to learn your rights.

I'm so sorry this happened. It's hard to accept that this obnoxious word is still being used in 2012.

The kind of unlawful activity implicated by comments such as the one made by the supervisor is called a hostile work environment. A hostile work environment is a legal term of art that means there is on-going unlawful harassment. Unlawful harassment must be based on a protected category, such as race, sex, religion, disability, age (40 and over), pregnancy, or genetic information. Harassment can include verbal conduct, slurs, derogatory comments, comments or questions about a person's body, appearance, religious, or sexual activity. Harassment can also include offensive gestures, sexually suggestive eye contact or looks, mimicking the employee in an insulting way, and derogatory or graphic posters, cartoons or drawings.

Harassment is unlawful when the conduct is either severe or pervasive enough to create an abusive environment. Severe conduct would include most physical contact and many types of threatening, vulgar or degrading conduct. Pervasive conduct is widespread, happens frequently and/or in many situations. One offensive statement is not pervasive, but the same comment made over and over again may be pervasive.

Unlawful harassment is itself a form of unlawful discrimination. "Discrimination" means "to treat differently." Not all discrimination is unlawful. Please look at my guide to unlawful discrimination: which should help you understand lawful and unlawful discrimination.

In this case, the statement is even more offensive because it was made by a supervisor. There may be company policies that prohibit this kind of behavior and comment, but those are not enforceable by a law suit in most cases. Know that the employer might have disciplined the supervisor in some way other than termination.

I probably don't need to tell you to keep your eyes and ears open for any future remarks. Keep a log of any comments, adverse actions or other funny business, starting with the day the first adverse action took place. Write down the date, time, what was said or done, who said or did it, and any witnesses. Be sure to include any complaints you made to HR, your boss or anyone. Keep your log at home, not at work, because you never know what will disappear.

If you can document repeated comments or repeated bad treatment, you may be able to pursue a case. Employment law is complicated and fact-specific. You may wish to consult with an experienced plaintiffs employment lawyer. You can find a plaintiffs employment attorney on the National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA) web site NELA is the largest and most influential bar association in the country for attorneys representing working people. You can search by location and practice area. Also, NELA has affiliates in every state and many cities which are listed on the NELA site. Not all NELA attorneys are named on the web site or affiliate site. This should not influence your selection; attorneys can choose whether or not to purchase a listing in the national directory, and each affiliate has its own rules for listing.

I hope you can resolve your situation and wish you the best.

*** All legal actions have time limits, called statutes of limitation. If you miss the deadline for filing your claim, you will lose the opportunity to pursue your case. Please consult with an experienced employment attorney as soon as possible to better preserve your rights. *** Marilynn Mika Spencer provides information on Avvo as a service to the public, primarily when general information may be of assistance. Avvo is not an appropriate forum for an in-depth response or a detailed analysis. These comments are for information only and should not be considered legal advice. Legal advice must pertain to specific, detailed facts. No attorney-client relationship is created based on this information exchange. *** Marilynn Mika Spencer is licensed to practice law before all state and federal courts in California, and can appear before administrative agencies throughout the country. She is eligible to represent clients in other states on a pro hac vice basis. ***