LEGAL BRIEFS: Workplace Discrimination and the Word "Boy"
The U.S. Supreme Court became involved in a 2006 discrimination lawsuit vs. Tyson's Food, Inc. in which 2 Black men said they were denied promotions by a white manager, who referred to them as “boys.” The Supreme Court unanimously overturned an appeals court decision that said the term "boy" alone was not evidence of workplace discrimination. The Supreme Court also ordered the lower court to reconsider the matter.
The Supreme Court stepped in because a jury awarded Anthony Ash and John Hithon $1.75 million apiece in damages, but a judge had thrown out the decision. The two Black complainants had 15 years and 13 years of experience, with Tyson’s Food, respectively. BUT, a white man, with less than 2 years of experience, got a management job they sought at an Alabama plant.
Eric Schnapper, a law professor at the University of Washington who represented the men, told the justices that the term "boy" is offensive and had been considered a slur by other courts. "This form of verbal abuse has its origins in the slave era," he wrote in the appeal of the decision.
In sending the case back to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, the Supreme Court released an unsigned opinion. Supreme Court Justice Alito wrote: "Although it is true the disputed word will not always be evidence of racial animus, it does not follow that the term, standing alone, is always benign."