Employment Discrimination - Stray Remarks

One remark is not enough to constitute discrimination. When can you bring an employment discrimination lawsuit based on stray remarks? One comment will almost never, standing alone, make a discrimination lawsuit.  Even an extreme statement, such as a racial slur, sexual joke, pornography, or the like is not sufficient to make out a claim for employment discrimination on its own.  There has to be more.  Below are a few examples of what may suffice to show discrimination.

  1. Adverse employment action:  termination, demotion, suspension without pay, failure to hire, etc. might be enough to show discrimination along with that one remark (depending on what the one remark was). For example, if your boss makes a comment about how women with kids need to stay home and then fires you as soon as he finds out you’re pregnant, you might have a pregnancy discrimination case.
  2. Severe or pervasive conduct:  anything short of an adverse action is considered harassment. Harassment has to be either so severe or so pervasive that it alters the terms and conditions of your employment. That means there would have to be many jokes, comments or differing treatment to rise to the level of illegal harassment.

But don’t get us wrong -- the discriminatory remark is very important.  The remark is evidence and if it related to your protected status (e.g., a racial epithet), then it’s direct evidence of discriminatory animus.

What should you do if your boss makes discriminatory comments?

  1. You should report remarks that directly relate to race, national origin, color, religion, age, sex, disability, genetic information or other protected status in accordance with the company harassment policy.  Put the report in writing.  But don’t go to HR every day and every time there’s a problem.  Use your judgment.  Document any remarks and take them to HR after you have a few. While you might report the first remark, if they don’t take action to stop it, then don’t make yourself a nuisance. Do report any acceleration of the behavior or any retaliation.
  2. You have to report harassment before you can even go to the EEOC, and you have to file with EEOC before you can sue. Don’t skip the steps or you’ll have your case tossed.
  3. Bullying isn’t illegal. If the comments don’t relate to your race, age, sex, national origin, etc. then don’t report them unless you’re being treated differently compared to others of a different race, age, sex, national origin, etc. Unfortunately, it is perfectly legal to be an equal opportunity jerk.
  4. Don’t quit.
  5. Contact us.  We can help!