EJS and Lieff Cabraser File Amicus Brief in Race Discrimination Lawsuit on N-word in the Workplace

The Equal Justice Society (EJS) and Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP on March 18, 2021, filed an amicus brief in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of a social scientists, scholars, and civil rights organizations in support of a former hospital worker’s racial bias suit.  The brief argues that because of the word’s historical association to violence and consequent physical and psychic assaultive impact, even a single use of the N-word “annihilates the well-being” of its target and constitutes discrimination sufficient to create a hostile work environment under Title VII.

Robert Collier was a former operating room aide at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas where he was exposed to the slur every day because it was carved into the elevator he took to work.

“The Fifth Circuit’s holding that, as a matter of law, a single workplace infliction of [the N-word] is not actionable under Title VII ignores both the slur’s historical and social context and this court’s requirement that this context be considered,” stated the amici. The brief states that the Sixth, Seventh, Eighth and Tenth circuits have reached similar conclusions as the Fifth Circuit, but the Third, Fourth and D.C. circuits have held that one instance of the word is actionable under Title VII.

The institutional amici: Aoki Center for Critical Race and Nation Studies at UC Davis School of Law; Center on Race, Law, and Justice at the Fordham Law School; Center on Race, Inequality, and the Law at New York University School of Law; Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School; Civil Rights Project at UCLA; Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality; and W. Haywood Burns Institute.

The individual  amici: Catherine Simpson Bueker, Professor of Sociology at Emmanuel College in Boston, Massachusetts; Bennett Capers, Professor of Law at Fordham Law School and Director of the Center on Race, Law, and Justice; Robert Carter, PhD., Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Education at Columbia University; Robert S. Chang, Professor of Law and the Executive Director of the Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality at Seattle University School of Law; Marjorie Florestal, law professor and former lawyer with  the Clinton Administration; Dr. Nicole Arlette Hirsch, visiting scholar at UC Berkeley; Christopher Hom, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Texas Tech University; Jason Okonofua, Assistant Professor in the Psychology Department at University of California- Berkeley; Dr. Alex Pieterse, Associate Professor and Doctoral Training Director, Counseling Psychology

at the University of Albany; Dr. Jennifer Richeson, Philip R. Allen Professor of Psychology at Yale University; and Suja A. Thomas, Peer and Sarah Pedersen Professor of Law at the University of Illinois College of Law.

The brief was filed by Kelly M. Dermody, Daniel M. Hutchinson, Evan J. Ballan, Michelle A. Lamy, Jessica A. Moldovan, and Nigar A. Shaikh of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP; Eva Paterson, Mona Tawatao and Christina Alvernaz, of the Equal Justice Society, and Lisa Holder, of counsel to EJS.

The lawsuit is Robert Collier v. Dallas County Hospital District dba Parkland Health & Hospital System.

The brief is available for download here. Warning: The brief in many places spells out the N-word and cites to the word in association with psychic and physical violence. Amici and their counsel did so reluctantly with the knowledge of the trauma inflicted by this word to expose the sheer violence of the language laid bare.