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Barrett: Saying the N Word Doesn't Create a Hostile Work Environment

Trump's pick has a short record on the court

Brian Young's picture
Oct 14, 2020

This week the Senate Judiciary Committee has been questioning Trump’s appointment to the Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barret. The 48-year-old justice previously served on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh District since 2017 when Trump first appointed her.

Since she has only been a judge for three years, Barret has a light record on cases that concern workers or unions. She did however oversee one case where she may have tipped her hand to how she views workplace harassment.

The case revolved around a discrimination suit that was filed by a Black Illinois transportation employee named Terry Smith. In the lawsuit, Smith claimed that his supervisor Lloyd Colbert created a hostile work environment when he used the N word at work.

In the majority opinion that was written by Barret, she rejected the claim saying that the use of the N word in the workplace had not “created a hostile or abusive working environment.” While the decision in the Seventh circuit was unanimous, it was in direct conflict with a case from 2013 where future Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh found that “a single sufficiently severe incident  (of using the N word) may create a hostile work environment.”

In the opinion, Barret wrote:

“The n-word is an egregious racial epithet. That said, Smith can’t win simply by proving that the word was uttered. He must also demonstrate that Colbert’s use of this word altered the conditions of his employment and created a hostile or abusive working environment.”

A vote on the Barret nomination is expected in the Judiciary Committee this week or early next and a full vote by the Senate is likely in the coming week or two.

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