Harlem Nonprofit Given a Break on Racial Slurs
MANHATTAN (CN) - A black woman whose boss called her the N-word deserves less than half of the $280,000 judgment that a jury awarded her, a federal judge ruled.
Brandi Johnson had been working for Strive East Harlem Employment in 2012 when she endured the epithet-laced tirade from the office's president and co-founder, Rob Carmona, a dark-skinned Puerto Rican man.
Johnson had been surreptitiously taping Carmona after he allegedly called her "the kind [of] woman who [would] throw a woman under the bus," and brushed off her complaints of sexual harassment against her female colleague.
The rant Carmona delivered on March 14, 2012, was captured on Johnson's iPhone and eventually played in court and broadcast by several media outlets.
"Both of you, you know what it is, both of you are niggers," Carmona had said. "And I'm not using the term nigger derogatory. Cause sometimes it's good to know when to act like niggers, but you act like niggers all the time."
Johnson sent a complaint to Strive CEO Phil Weinberg less than a month after this incident.
She was fired within two months of her complaint.
Rejecting Carmona's defense that his remarks lacked racial animus, a federal jury awarded Johnson $280,000 in September for three counts of racial and gender discrimination.
U.S. District Judge Harold Baer upheld that finding on Thursday.
"To be clear, under no circumstances that I can conceive of would calling a subordinate a nigger be acceptable conduct," Baer wrote.
The judge nevertheless reduced the amount of the award, finding that the jury overcalculated Johnson's lost front pay and emotional distress.
"To be sure, being subjected to racial epithets as well as the harsh treatment Carmona regularly inflicted upon plaintiff was undoubtedly distressing," the 24-page ruling states. "But while plaintiff testified that she saw a therapist and was prescribed some form of medication, plaintiff declined to take that medication."
Johnson must inform the judge by Jan. 15 whether she will accept a reduced award of $128,109.59, or retry her claims before a jury.
Johnson's attorney Marjorie Mesidor said in a phone interview that she has not yet decided whether to retry the damages portion of the trial.
She added that she was "very happy" that the judge denied Strive's appeals on the merits of the case.
The opinion affirmed that using the N-word in the work place is "completely intolerable," whatever the circumstances, Mesidor said.
Carmona's attorney did not return a request for comment.