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Surprise! The N-Word Is Not Appropriate For the Office

Surprise! The N-Word Is Not Appropriate For the Office

On March 14, 2012, Brandi Johnson had a meeting with her boss, Rob Carmona. Having been subjected to nearly two years of verbal abuse, she decided to record it. During the meeting Carmona admonished her for her workplace attire and her inappropriate behavior – all while calling her the n-word. He also called her smart, but dumb as…well, let’s just say it was NSFW.

For nearly four minutes Carmona continued his expletive laden tirade, in which he called her a n****r eight times. This left Johnson demoralized and in tears. A month later, when she sent a detailed account of the abuse she had endured to the company’s CEO, he told her she was “out of line” and to stop being “emotional.”

One month later, she was fired.

She worked for a non-profit agency dedicated to “helping individuals with significant barriers to employment receive the training and support they need to obtain meaningful work and achieve economic self-sufficiency.” These significant barriers include things like incarceration or drugs. STRIVE focuses largely on helping minorities and prides itself on having many women on their staff. It has been heralded for doing great work in the communities they serve.

Brandi Johnson was not a participant in the program but had also overcome adversity, having been previously convicted of grand larceny. She had high expectations when she started working for them as an Affiliates Services Coordinator. Shortly after she arrived at STRIVE East Harlem, Caromona, her boss and co-founder of the organization, began verbally abusing her. Over the next two years, she would file several complaints, only to have her complaints fall on deaf ears. When she came to the defense of a colleague who had been sexually harassed by a fellow employee, she was retaliated against and subjected to further verbal abuse.

Apparently this was the inappropriate behavior for which she was being admonished.

This might be a good time to mention that while most of STRIVE’s employees are women, all of their executives are men. There are only two women on their fourteen member board. Women may be doing much of the work, but they aren’t making the decisions. Important decisions like how to handle gender-based harassment.

Maybe they think women are too emotional for things like that.

After being fired, Johnson filed a hostile workplace claim in federal court in New York, due to gender and racially based harassment. On the stand she told how she was offended by the use of the N-word and she felt humiliated. The defense argued that she couldn’t possibly have been offended due to one very important factor: both she and Carmona are black.

The 61-year-old Carmona testified that the N-word has multiple contexts in the African-American and Latin communities (he included the latter because he is half Puerto-Rican). It can be used in love, anger, friendship or as a way to express a state of being. In the case of his use of the word – eight times in four minutes – with Johnson, it was out of love. He was just letting her know that she was being a n****r in the “too emotional, wrapped up in the negative aspects of human nature” sense.

Because apparently that’s what you call a woman who complains about harassment.

The crux of the defense’s argument was that because the word was used between two black people, it was not racially motivated and, in fact, culturally acceptable. This didn’t make it any less hurtful to the 38-year-old Brandi Johnson who admitted that after that meeting in March 2012, she went into the bathroom and cried for 45 minutes. It left her feeling degraded and disrespected.

While there would be little doubt the word would be racially motivated if Carmona was white, the jury was tasked with deciding if this was indeed a case of cultural norms if the target was offended. Even if they did believe the argument, was it appropriate for a workplace environment?

The answer is no.

In September, a federal jury issued a verdict agreeing that the use of the word was hostile and discriminatory. Ms. Johnson was awarded $250,000 dollars in compensatory damages, and an additional $30,000 in punitive damages, the latter to be split between STRIVE and Carmona, who is to pay $25,000 dollars of the punitive award.

In a statement issued after the verdict, STRIVE agreed that the language used was inappropriate and against policy, but there was no “evidence of harassment or discrimination based on gender and race” after a thorough investigation. They also denied she was fired because of her complaints, saying her position was funded by grant money and that the funds had been exhausted and, therefore, she was let go.

Apparently it was just a coincidence it happened right after she complained to the CEO.

STRIVE plans to appeal.

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118 comments

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6:27PM PST on Dec 14, 2013

thanks

4:56AM PST on Nov 21, 2013

Since I am not from the States I must admit that I am very curious where those letters stand for. I tried all kinds of options, but I still wonder hahahaha. But you are probably not allowed to write them out. Too bad.

I just swear back if somebody gives me a big mouth. I don't care if it is my boss. If he does it I can too.

5:30PM PST on Nov 20, 2013

I agree with many here. Harassment is harassment no matter from who or what color that person may be. The folks at STRIVE are a bunch of unprofessionals who could do with some diversity classes and classes on how to treat all employees and how to have an atmosphere of professionalism.

1:39PM PST on Nov 20, 2013

Of course it was financially based and I am a monkey's uncle ( for those who read this and am not aware the meaning of my comment re monkeys it is a form of sarcasm) I don't believe a word of it just a convienient exscuse.

8:20PM PST on Nov 19, 2013

I am surprised about one thing. They didn't blame it on "female hormones" they sound cretinous to have done so.

What a shining example of how not to behave presented by Mr. Carmona. Pity it wasn't filmed. We could have shown it as a don't act like this for young men and boys.

5:49PM PST on Nov 19, 2013

Not surprising that a male run company couldn't find any evidence to support her claims. They always do seem to cover their tracks. I bet they asked him if he did it, he said no and they wrapped up the investigation.

4:59AM PST on Nov 19, 2013

Thanks..

2:26AM PST on Nov 19, 2013

very unprofessional behaviour. That man should not be in any position of 'power' at all. He is abusive by words and actions. Despicable!

2:13AM PST on Nov 19, 2013

treating others like you want to be treated, that is all it takes, nothing more, nothing less.

4:03PM PST on Nov 18, 2013

I cannot understand the comment by Berny P.In Ireland...this would never be tolerated ... we have very strict laws regarding treatment of employees and proceedures for dealing with employment issues. An complaint is fully investigated.

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