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Employee Harassed Because He Was Engaged to an African-American Woman


Race discrimination in the employment context occurs when a person, either an employee or applicant, is treated unfavorably because of his or her race or personal characteristics associated with a certain race (e.g., hair texture, skin color, facial features). Harassment can include racial slurs, offensive or derogatory remarks regarding race, or displaying racially-offensive symbols.

You don't have to be a member of a minority group to be subjected to race discrimination in the workplace. If you complain about race discrimination against minorities, you may be subjected to retaliation or harassment. If you are married to, or even engaged to, a minority you may also suffer harassment or discrimination. In a very recent federal discrimination case, Matusick v Erie County Water Authority, an employee made this very claim and was successful, not only on trial, but also on appeal.

Scott Matusick's Engagement Led to Harassment

Scott Matusick was an employee at the Erie County Water Authority in New York. He became engaged to a Black woman in 2004. Once his co-workers found out about his engagement, they began a campaign of harassment. It is alleged that Matusick's supervisor went the employee's home, threw Matusick's lawn equipment on top of his roof, duct-taped his door shut and threatened to kill Matusick. His supervisor called Matusick a "fu*king nig*er lover" and told him his "bitch" was a nig*er. The employee relations coordinator told the employee, "I'm going to get you, I'm going to get you, you [nig*er] lover, you're going to get it." In addition, a coworker referred to the fiancée's children as "porch monkeys" and "niggletts." There was evidence in this case that the Human Resources director knew about the racially derogatory statements being made, but failed to take any action to stop the harassment. Instead, the company suggested to Matusick that his complaints were disruptive to the work environment.

Matusick Filed a Lawsuit After Being Terminated

In April 2005, disciplinary charges were brought against Matusick. After a hearing, he was found guilty of those charges and terminated. Matusick subsequently sued his employer for unlawful discrimination, as well as for a violation of his First Amendment right to intimate association, which is essentially his choice of marital partner.

The case went to trial and the jury awarded Scott Matusick $304,775 in back pay and $5,000 in punitive damages. The defendants maintained that the fact that Matusick's fiancée was African-America was not a motivating factor for his termination. They claimed no one in a position to make or influence the decision to terminate him actually knew about the relationship. But Matusick alleged that his fiancée and her children came to visit him on the job on more than one occasion, so his supervisors and co-workers had constructive notice of his interracial relationship. The district court upheld the jury verdict and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

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