Gina Holland, AP, Feb. 21, 2006
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court stepped into a dispute Tuesday over whether white managers can be sued for calling black employees “boys.”
The court unanimously overturned an appeals court decision that said the term “boy” alone was not evidence of workplace discrimination and ordered the court to reconsider the matter.
The decision, one of the first actions with new Justice Samuel Alito, is a loss for Tyson Foods Inc. which was sued by two longtime black employees who claimed they were passed over for promotions by a white manager who called them “boys.”
A jury awarded Anthony Ash and John Hithon $1.75 million apiece in damages, but a judge threw out the decision.
Ash had 15 years experience with Tyson Foods and Hithon 13 years. A white man who got a management job they sought at an Alabama plant had less than two years experience.
Eric Schnapper, a law professor at the University of Washington who is representing the men, told justices that the term “boy” is offensive and is considered a slur by other courts.
The lawyers for Tyson Foods said that evidence showed the manager “was rude and curt to all employees — white and black — but had never used racial epithets.”