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“Good Boy”: A Phrase for Your Dog, Not Your Employee

A former car salesman at Lee Partyka Chevrolet in Hamden, Connecticut, is suing the dealership claiming he lost his job after complaining about the general manager’s alleged use of the word “boy” to refer to his black employees.

In his suit, plaintiff Dennis Bellamy alleges the dealership violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by terminating him because he spoke up for what he perceived was a hostile work environment resulting from his general manager’s racially disparaging language.  Below is an outline of the events which Mr. Bellamy alleges led to his termination:

  • May 23, 2016 –Bellamy was hired as a sales associate.
  • October 2016 through January 2017 – On several occasions, Bellamy’s general manager, a Caucasian male, called him a “good boy.” Bellamy observed his general manager calling other African American males “boy” during this time as well.
  • January 20, 2017 Bellamy called his general manager and informed him that his African American employees were uncomfortable with his use of the word “boy” to describe men of color. The general manager demanded the names of these employees, but they were not given.  Later that day, the general manager called Bellamy into his office and told him if anyone thinks his use of the word “boy” is racist, then “F— them all.”
  • January 21, 2017 At a sales meeting, Bellamy’s general manager informed the sales staff that he had been using the word “boy” all his life and had no intention of changing. He went on to say “this is probably not the right job” for those employees who had a problem with it.  At that point the dealership’s finance manager urged those employees to quit, saying “we don’t want you here. You should leave right now… Do me a favor and get the f— out of here now, please.”  Bellamy responded by saying he had researched the word, and the consensus was it was a derogatory way of speaking to African Americans.
  • January 23, 2017 Bellamy was handed a document entitled “Exit Interview” and was advised he was being terminated for his “attitude.”

Bellamy collected unemployment for a few months after his termination, until he found work as a public school teacher in Bridgeport.  The lawsuit seeks attorney fees, punitive and compensatory damages, and a temporary and permanent injunction requiring the dealership to reinstate Bellamy with full back pay and benefits, retroactive to the date of his termination.  While the case is unresolved, the outlook is not good for the employer. 

So, is the use of “boy” or “girl” that big of a deal?  Yes.  While one would hope the use of outright racially-derogatory comments, and other poorly chosen words, are rare nowadays, this case reminds us they are not.  Moreover, even if the use of these words did not create a hostile environment, retaliating against the one who complains is at least as bad or maybe even a worse employment decision.  Remember – retaliation claims such as the ones raised here are the most frequently filed charge with the EEOC and actual discrimination does not need to be proven in order for an employee to be successful.

Brody and Associates regularly provides counsel on civil rights issues and employment laws in general.  If we can be of assistance in this area, please contact us at info@brodyandassociates.com or 203.454.0560.