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When is the Use of the Word "Boy" Evidence of Racial Animus in the Workplace?


A recent employment discrimination case decided by a federal district court in Utah discussed the use of the term “boy” as a racial slur toward black employees. The Utah court, in making its decision, considered an Alabama case involving the same issue. Ultimately, the Utah court set out specific (though non-exhaustive) factors to consider in determining whether the use of the term could be viewed as evidence of racial animus.

Evans v. Coates Electrical & Instrumentation

In the Utah case of Evans v. Coates Electrical & Instrumentation, a black apprentice electrician was placed with Coates Electrical by a staffing agency. During an assignment, Evans was told by his supervisor to obtain a tool from the toolshed where he was seen by the project manager. The manager asked Evans what he was doing, and he explained that he was following his supervisor’s orders. The project manager responded, “Boy, you work for me.”
Evans told the manager that using the word was racially demeaning and asked him not to use it toward him again. The project manager refused and continued to use the term. Evans told the manager he would make a complaint of race discrimination. At that point, Evans claims the project manager said “Boy, take off that harness. You are out of here. You’re fired.”

Use of the Term “Boy” Can Demonstrate Racial Animus

A question that has arisen time and again in the context of race discrimination is the use of the term “boy” in a derogatory manner toward African-Americans. In this case, the Utah court considered the five factors articulated by the U.S. Supreme Court in Ash v. Tyson Foods, Inc. in determining whether the use of the term was evidence of racial animus. Those five factors, which is not an exhaustive list, include “context, inflection, tone of voice, local custom, and historical usage.”

Considering the context of Evans’ claims, the term “boy” was used by a supervisor and, immediately after the employee complained about the racially offensive term, he was fired. Furthermore, as Evans testified, the term was used in a very hostile and aggressive manner. The manager allegedly “took 2-3 aggressive steps” toward him in a confrontational way and his “face was consumed with extreme anger.” As such, the context and tone of the situation support a finding of racial animus.

Employer Argues Local Custom and Historical Usage Do Not Apply

The company argued that use of the term “boy” in Utah, unlike Alabama for example, is not considered racist. The state of Utah is predominantly white and, as such, does not have the same long history of using the term in a derogatory manner toward black people. The federal court did not find this argument compelling, pointing out that once the employee made it clear to the project manager that it was racially derogatory he was then put on notice.

If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination or retaliation in the workplace, or if you have any other questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced
Birmingham employment law attorneys at Michel | King . You can contact us either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880. We are here to serve you!

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