Single Instance of Highly Offensive Conduct May Form the Basis for a Hostile Work Environment
In Rios v. Meda Pharmaceutical, Inc., the New Jersey Supreme Court recently held that a direct
supervisor’s use of two highly offensive racial slurs could, by themselves, constitute a hostile
work environment. This decision expanded on the Court’s prior decision in which it determined
that a single highly offensive racial comment made by the head of an organization could
establish a hostile work environment.
In finding that a mere two comments could rise to the level of a hostile work environment the
Rios Court explained that the comments were “highly offensive and demeaning slurs,” were
made by the plaintiff’s direct supervisor, and the plaintiff had reported the comments consistent
with company policy.
Although Rios involved alleged comments by the plaintiff’s direct supervisor New Jersey law
provides that courts evaluating conduct alleged to rise to the level of a hostile work environment
should use an “expansive definition of supervisor.” The Court has instructed that this applies to
individuals who direct the daily duties of subordinates and “higher-level management.”
Given the remedial purposes of the Law Against Discrimination courts will be asked to apply the
Rios holding to the comments and conduct of higher-ranking individuals who are not in a direct
supervisory relationship to the plaintiff.
If you believe that you have been the victim of a hostile work environment please contact
the Law Offices of Damian Christian Shammas for a free consultation.