Rob Carmona has learned a lesson that will cost him $250,000. Carmona, the founder of Strive, a Harlem based temporary agency, will have to pay his former employee, Brandi Johnson, $250,000 in compensatory damages for using the “n” word towards her at work. In the lawsuit against Carmona, Johnson claims that she was victim to his numerous “n” word tirades about inappropriate workplace attire and unprofessional behavior.
“I was offended. I was hurt. I felt degraded. I felt disrespected. I was embarrassed,” Johnson testified.
In closing arguments, Johnson’s attorney Marjorie M. Sharpe said Carmona’s use of the word was intended to offend “and any evidence that defendants put forth to the contrary is simply ridiculous.”
“When you use the word ni**er to an African-American, no matter how many alternative definitions that you may try to substitute with the word ni**er, that is no different than calling a Hispanic by the worst possible word you can call a Hispanic, calling a homosexual male the worst possible word that you can call a homosexual male,” Sharpe told jurors.
But defense lawyers said the 61-year-old Carmona, a black man of Puerto Rican descent, had a much different experience with the word. Raised by a single mother in a New York City public housing project, he became addicted to heroin in his teens and broke it with the help of drug counselors who employed tough love and tough language.
Carmona went on to earn a master’s degree from Columbia University before co-founding STRIVE in the 1980s. Now, most of STRIVE’s employees are black women, defense attorney Diane Krebs told jurors in her opening statement.
“And Mr. Carmona is himself black, as you yourselves can see,” Krebs said.
In his testimony, Carmona defended his use of the word, saying he used it with Johnson to convey that she was “too emotional, wrapped up in her, at least the negative aspects of human nature.”
Then he explained that the word has “multiple contexts” in the black and Latino communities, sometimes indicating anger, sometimes love.
A jury didn’t see his use of the word as an indication of love, but hostile and discriminatory even if it’s being used by one black person towards another. On top of the compensatory damages of $250,000, the jury also awarded Johnson $30,000 in punitive damages.
Below is a recording of Carmona’s “n” word rant the jury heard:
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