Sticks and Stones

Most people have heard this saying at some point in their life, probably as a child.  “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can never harm you.”  With a quick internet search, references to this saying go back as early as to the 1800s.  The intent of the saying seems clear; to help someone soldier on in the face of hurtful words.  Yet, there are countless stories noting that, in fact, words can and do harm people.

The courts have grappled with this concept in the realm of harassment and hostile environment cases.  Are there words that are sufficiently hurtful as to create a claim for racial harassment or the creation of a racially hostile working environment?  What is the employer’s responsibility to stop such conduct? Continue reading