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Fifth Circuit Reverses Stance on Title VII Claims: A Single Epithet Could Support Hostile Work Environment Claim

In a recent case, Woods v. Cantrell, the Fifth Circuit departed from its previous stance that a single instance of epithets cannot support Title VII claims. In Woods, an employee filed a hostile work environment claim alleging, among other things, that their supervisor called them a “Lazy Monkey A___ N_____.”  The district court dismissed the claim because “a single utterance of a racial epithet, as despicable as it is, cannot support a hostile work environment claim.”

On appeal, the Fifth Circuit, stating: ‘a single incident of harassment, if sufficiently severe, [can] give rise to a viable Title VII claim” under a totality of the circumstances test. The Fifth Court reasoned that the “N word” is severe enough to support an actionable hostile work environment claim.

The Fifth Circuit joins the First, Second, Fourth, Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Circuits and the District of Columbia in recognizing a single epithet as a sufficient basis for an actionable claim for hostile work environment.

Brody and Associates regularly advises management on complying with the latest local, state and federal employment laws.  If we can be of assistance in this area, please contact us at info@brodyandassociates.com or 203.454.0560