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Monday, November 1, 2010
Can the use of the word "boy" by a white supervisor addressing a black employee in a work situation be deemed an act of discrimination?
2006 PJP Fellow Bill Rankin, writing in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution examines an interesting case that was recently heard by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. The suit was brought by John Hithon, a worker at the Tyson's chicken processing plant in Gadsden, Alabama, who claimed that his supervisor had addressed him as "boy," a term with historical racial overtones recalling the relationship between master and slave. Indeed, the trial court twice awarded Hithon damages on his claim that such slurs represented the racism that led to his being passed over for promotion. But in both cases, the circuit court overturned the decision, most recently when a three judge panel heard the case and dismissed it in Tyson's favor. As Rankin reports, now a distinguished group of civil rights pioneers -- including former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth (co-founder of the Southern Christian leadership Council) and former SCLC president Rev, Joseph Lowery -- is asking the 11th Circuit to reconsider the case en banc; that is, as a twelve-judge panel including all of the judges of the 11th circuit.