E. The N-Word Pervades the Workplace with the Disease of Racism.

A singular use of the N-word at work is pervasive; like a contagion, it embeds and replicates the pathogenic racial subjugation-domination dynamic in the workplace culture. See Rebecca Gibian, Why Words Matter: The Neuroscience of Hate Speech, Inside Hook (Nov. 1, 2018), https://www.insidehook. (repeated exposure to hate speech can increase prejudice and desensitize individuals to verbal aggression).

Aside from the acute psychic and physical harm the N-word can have on its target, its collateral consequences are ongoing and pervasive: Racially discriminatory conduct, particularly when it goes unabated, can poison the work environment, validate and encourage additional hateful conduct, and create a chain reaction effect throughout the workplace. Racial slurs, particularly in an office environment, are a means of enforcing and maintaining social hierarchy. “[A] key antecedent for those who use racial slurs is the desire for their dominant social group ... to retain a dominant social position relative to members of subordinate groups.” Ashleigh Shelby Rosette et al., Why Do Racial Slurs Remain Prevalent in the Workplace? Integrating Theory on Intergroup Behavior, 24 Org. Sci. 1402, 1403 (2013). “Racial slurs are used to reinforce divides between racial groups.” Id. at 1405. Indeed, members of the socially dominant group tend to remain silent when they observe the use of racial slurs by other members of the same group against a target in a subordinate group. Id.

Moreover, when accepted in the workplace as shoptalk or “mere utterance,” the N-word desensitizes bystanders, increasing the racial empathy gap that underwrites myriad terrible social outcomes for Black people. Americans are socialized to feel less empathy for Black people due to conditioning by hegemonic stereotypes. Jason Silverstein, I Don't Feel Your Pain: A failure of empathy perpetuates racial disparities, Slate (June 27, 2013), https://slate.com/technology/2013/06/ racial-empathy-gap-people-dont-perceive-pain-in-other-races.html. Based on experimentation, neuroscientists conclude that exposure to hate speech increases prejudice through desensitization, and that dehumanizing the target may reduce empathy. Id.

The use of the N-word in the workplace thus has the institutional effect of replicating race-based social hierarchies, and at the interpersonal level, it may empower office colleagues to engage in similar (or even escalated) harassing conduct. Ultimately, a single, isolated incident can be infectious, increasing the likelihood of subsequent racial slurs and other forms of discrimination. The Seventh Circuit in Daniels v. Essex Group, Inc., 937 F.2d 1264 (7th Cir. 1991), described this very phenomenon. There, the unaddressed “racial taunts” (“Nigger jokes”) against a Black employee by coworkers escalated over time to violent threats and a facsimile lynching of a black dummy marking “the outbreak of a more injurious strain of the virus of racism that had already infected the workplace.” Id. at 1266, 1274-75.

African Americans are vulnerable to unique forms of workplace hostility and systemic industrial inequality. For example, Black women are more likely than white women to suffer workplace sexual harassment. Black Women Disproportionately Experience Workplace Sexual Harassment, New NWLC Report Reveals, Nat'l Women's Law Ctr. (Aug. 2, 2018), https://nwlc.org/press-releases/black-women-disproportionately-experience-workplace-sexual-harassment-new-nwlc-report-reveals/. Further, they are likely to be treated unfairly in promotions and training and discriminated against in advancement opportunities. Andie Kramer, Recognizing Workplace Challenges Faced by Black Women Leaders, Forbes (Jan. 7, 2020), https://www.forbes.com/sites/andiekramer/ 2020/01/07/recognizing-workplace-challenges-faced-by-black-women-leaders/.

Recognizing that African American workers suffer unique, outsized racialized harms is consistent with Title VII's recognition of the importance of subjective experience in assessing harassment violations.