Discrimination Lawsuit Cites Racial Code Words

Discrimination Lawsuit Cites Racial Code Words

The federal government filed a discrimination lawsuit this month on behalf of a black file clerk who alleges that a white supervisor intimidated her using racial code words, including a notorious racial slur spelled backward.

Tomeika Broussard, 29, was fired from her job at the Arthritis and Orthopedic Medical Clinic in Los Gatos, California, in early 2004 after complaining to her superiors about the subtle discrimination using coded language. She was the clinic’s only black employee.

“Even thought the word is backward, it doesn’t remove the fact that it’s an inflammatory racial slur,” said Sanya Hill Maxion, an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission attorney.

“We look at code words: who’s stating them, tone of voice, do they mean it in a derogatory fashion? We have to look at context,” Maxion said.

Experts say this case, which is the first of its kind, calls attention to the changing nature of racial discrimination in the workplace – from more overt forms to veiled threats and other disguised methods of intimidation.

“We’re seeing more and more cases these days in which code words are being used to cloak discrimination. We’re starting to recognize that this is a problem,” said Maxion.

According to the lawsuit, Broussard is seeking back pay and punitive damages.

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