Single Use of “N” Word By Coworker Insufficient to Make Out Hostile Work Environment Claim, Court Holds

In Deshazer v. L&W Supply Corporation d/b/a Building Specialties et al, 2023 WL 2977733 (W.D.Okla. April 17, 2023), the court, inter alia, granted defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiff’s race-based hostile work environment claim under title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.C. § 1981.

From the decision:

Here, the single use of the n-word was not made by a supervisor to DeShazer or another co-worker. Instead, it was made by a co-worker. To date, the Tenth Circuit has not indicated that the single use of the n-word by a co-worker is sufficient to state a hostile work environment claim. But common sense strongly suggests that employment discrimination law should not be interpreted to put an employer at the mercy of a thoughtless employee who makes a racist comment in a conversation that the plaintiff happens to overhear from a speakerphone. In the Ford case, the n-word by a co-worker was accompanied by other offensive racist comments. And in the Lounds case, the term “nigga,” viewed by the Tenth Circuit as equivalent to the n-word, was repeatedly used by a co-worker.5 Similarly, the Tenth Circuit case, Tademy v. Union Pacific Corp., 614 F.3d 1132 (10th Cir. 2008), cited by DeShazer, involved more than one incident of the use of the n-word. Further, the Tenth Circuit has stated that, to support a hostile work environment claim, the “plaintiff must show more than a few isolated incidents of racial enmity[,]” there must be evidence of “a steady barrage of opprobrious racial comments.”

The court proceeded to evaluate plaintiff’s additional allegations – including that plaintiff “began to notice” that (white) supervisors treated non-black employees more favorably – were, even when considered under the “totality of the circumstances” analysis, insufficient.

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