This must be the week of “n” word lawsuit verdicts. First there was the judgment against Rob Carmona and the Strive Agency in New York City, and now Alabama State University will now have to shell out over $1 million to three plaintiffs who sued as the result of a hostile work environment and retaliation during their employment. The 11th Circuit upheld a verdict in favor of 3 plaintiffs; Cynthia Williams was awarded $392,648.23, Jacqueline Weatherly was awarded $309,453.00, and Lydia Burkhalter was awarded $376, 509.65.
“We apologize for the offensive and demeaning language contained in this opinion, but such language comes directly from the trial record.” 2 of the plaintiffs are African-American, and one plaintiff is biracial, part African-American and part Caucasian. Their 2 supervisors are also African-American. One, John Knight, is a member of the Alabama State legislature, and held various high-level administrative positions at ASU, including special assistant to the president, acting president, and COO. LaVonette Bartley served under Knight as ASU’s associate executive director in the Office of the Special Assistant to the President. Included in the testimony at trial was the following: Bartley commonly used the term “n*gger” in the workplace, routinely made comments like “I’m tired of n*gger shit”, and mockingly referred to ASU’s mass transportation as the “n*gger bus line”. Bartley told Weatherly that she was “sick and tired of this n*gger shit” and that “b*tch, you need to do what I asked you to do”. Weatherly reported this to HR, and requested a transfer. HR responded that nothing could be done. No one at ASU addressed the situation. Weatherly suffered from stress and anxiety, and her doctor took her off work. She was later transferred to another department.
Burkhalter worked as a senior administrative secretary for Knight from 2007 to 2009. She also reported to Bartley. She testified that in August, 2008, she heard Bartley use words such as “n*gger, n*gga, n*gga shit, b*tch, stupid b*tches, fat b*tch and white b*tch” in the office. Bartley’s racial barrage was sometimes directed to Burkhalter, and sometimes to others. When Bartley asked Burkhalter what races she was, she responded she was biracial, Bartley “looked [her] up and down…and curled her nose and walked away.” Bartley also called her 7 year old son “a n*gger”, which upset him so much that he crawled up under his mother’s desk and curled up in the fetal position. Bartley also made comments that were sexually harassing, such as describing her breasts as “melons” and her derriere as “hams”. Knight also made sexually harassing comments, such as remarking on how pretty she was and telling her “he liked his coffee sweet like [her] and the cooler of [her] complexion.” Knight also instructed her that she “was not allowed to document anything that happened to [her] in his office; that if anything was going on, [she] was to notify him verbally and only him”. She filed an EEOC charge on May 15, 2009, a Friday. She was off work the next week, due to stress, anxiety and high blood pressure. When the returned to work she was terminated. Knight testified that he made the decision to terminate her, because she had “abandon[ed] her job”
What in the entire hell was going on in that office? In any event, the plaintiffs in the case are several hundred thousand dollars richer, and hopefully the indignant employees of Alabama State University have learned that using such vulgarity in the work environment is costly.