Friday, May 12, 2006

Maryland Employers Free to Retaliate Against Employee Who Reports His Co-Worker Called African Americans "Black Monkeys"?

In October 2002, authorities captured two snipers (both African-American) who had terrorized the Washington area. At the time of the capture, co-workers Robert Jordan and Jay Farjah were watching TV at work in Maryland. Farjah said: "they should put those two black monkeys in a cage with a bunch of black apes and let the apes f--k them." Mr. Jordan reported Mr. Frajah's comments to other employees who stated they had heard Farjah make similar comments. Pursuant to company policy Mr. Jordan then reported Mr. Farjah's comments to management. Shortly thereafter, the company imposed harsher working conditions on Mr. Jordan and ultimately terminated his employment.

The principal issue in Jordan v. Alternative Resources Corp,No. 05-1485 (4th Cir. 2006) was whether Mr. Jordan reasonably believed that Mr. Frajah's derogatory remarks constituted a violation of federal or local anti-discrimination laws. If he did, his behavior was protected by those laws. Employers may not retaliate against employees for engaging in protected activity.

The majority (Judge Niemeyer joined by Judge Widener) held that Mr. Jordan could not have reasonably believed that Mr. Farjah's single outburst constituted a violation. This is so because a single racially derogatory remark does not rise to the level of actionable racial harassment. The dissent (Judge King) stated that "it was entirely reasonable . . . for Jordan to believe that, in reporting the racially charged 'black monkeys' comment . . . he was opposing a racially hostile work environment."

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