The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit this past month joined other state and federal courts that have held that single racial epithet can amount to a racially hostile work environment under Title VII. Though the facts are utterly key in employment law cases, the facts in Boyer-Liberto v. Fontainebleau Corporation (4th Cir. 2015) make the 4th Circuit's decision easy to understand.
The plaintiff in Boyer-Liberto is an African-American who, within a single 24-hour period in 2010, was twice called a "porch monkey" and threatened with the loss of her job by her Caucasian manager while working as a cocktail waitress at the Clarion Resort Fontainebleau Hotel in Ocean City, Maryland. When the plaintiff reported these incidents to the hotel's owner, she was fired. The plaintiff then filed a complaint against the hotel alleging a hostile work environment and retaliation under Title VII. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the hotel, then a not-fully-unanimous panel of the 4th Circuit affirmed and subsequently vacated by a grant of a rehearing en banc.
In reversing summary judgment, the 4th Circuit underscored the Supreme Court's holding in Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775, 788 (1998), where it was held that a single isolated incident of harassment, if extremely serious, can create a hostile work environment. This makes sense as think of an incident where a female employee is groped in her 'private part(s)' or a minority is called by the utmost offensive slur. Surely one would not believe groping would have to occur more than once for it to give rise to a sexual hostile work environment claim.
Though Wisconsin is not within the jurisdiction of the 4th Circuit, the 7th Circuit, where Wisconsin is within, has indicated that a single instance of racial harassment can establish a hostile work environment in Daniels v. Essex Group, Inc., (7th Cir. 1991).