The answer is Yes. Phrases such as “Go back to where you came from” can form the basis of a hostile work environment claim, according to the EEOC, the Federal agency that enforces civil rights laws.
In addition, the Ninth Circuit ruled in July 2019, in an unpublished opinion, that four racial slurs—including three uses of the “N” word—can constitute a hostile work environment. Christopher Houk, of the Houk Law Firm, PLLC, was part of the team that won the appeal in this case.
Language (including slurs, insults, or jokes) or conduct (including physical contact) in the workplace relating to race, national origin, color, sex, religion, age, or disability is illegal when it is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of employment and creates an abuse or hostile work environment.
In its Enforcement Guidance on National Origin Discrimination, the EEOC references a case, EEOC v. WC&M Enterprises, Inc., where the court said that a hostile work environment could occur where managers, supervisors, and co-workers made the following comments to a practicing Muslim from India: “Muslim extremist,” “Why don’t you go back to where you came from?,” referred to him as a member of the Taliban, and inferred he was involved in the September 11 terrorist attack.
In 2017, in Castleberry v. STI Group the Third Circuit ruled that one use of the “N” word could constitute a hostile work environment.
If you have questions about whether a situation at work may be a hostile work environment, please contact Houk Law Firm, PLLC to assist in determining your rights and responsibilities.
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The information in this post is not intended to be legal advice for a specific situation.