Federal jury: N-word has no place in workplace — even between black colleagues

Eric Pfeiffer
Yahoo News

Rob Carmona argued that his use of the N-word was meant in a positive context (ABC News)
Rob Carmona argued that his use of the N-word was meant in a positive context (ABC News)

A federal jury has ruled against an employer who said he used the N-word in an affectionate way toward black colleagues, effectively saying the incendiary word is unacceptable at work under any circumstances.
Rob Carmona, 61, was sued by a former employee who said that Carmona’s use of the word during a “tirade” over workplace attire and professionalism was inappropriate.

The jury ruled that Carmona’s March 2012 four-minute “rant,” was “hostile and discriminatory” and awarded plaintiff Brandi Johnson $250,000 in damages. The jury is now deciding whether to award punitive damages as well.

"I was offended. I was hurt. I felt degraded. I felt disrespected. I was embarrassed," Johnson, 38, who recorded Carmona’s comments, testified during the trial.

When asked to explain how he has used the word in a positive manner, Carmona explained, "That means my boy, I love him, or whatever.” And Carmona said that was his intention with Johnson.

The exchange between Carmona and Johnson, both of whom are African-American, has raised the question of whether use of the N-word has different legal connotations when used by someone who is black and someone who is not.

The exact racial makeup of the jury was not officially released, but it reportedly was composed of six men and two women. At least one of the eight is black, reports say.

Carmona is the owner and founder of STRIVE, a company that has received numerous public accolades for its efforts to improve employment opportunities in the black community. The group says it has helped nearly 50,000 individuals find employment since its inception in 1984.

Johnson’s attorney, Marjorie M. Sharpe, argued that Carmona’s defense did not hold up under scrutiny, saying it was “simply ridiculous” for him to argue that the word was used in a positive or endearing manner.

"When you use the word n----- to an African-American, no matter how many alternative definitions that you may try to substitute with the word n-----, that is no different than calling a Hispanic by the worst possible word you can call a Hispanic, calling a homosexual male the worst possible word that you can call a homosexual male," Sharpe told the jury.