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Hostile work environment suit against assisted living facility reinstated


A federal appeals court on Tuesday overturned a lower court and reinstated hostile work environment and constructive discharge claims filed by a former assisted living facility worker who was allegedly subjected to racial epithets by the 6-year-old grandson of the facility’s owners, among other incidents.

Tonya R. Chapman had worked for two periods at the Oakland Living Center Inc. facility in Rutherfordton, North Carolina, where she was subjected to multiple instances of racial harassment and other discrimination, according to Tuesday’s ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, in Tonya R. Chapman v. Oakland Living Center Inc. et al.

Ms. Chapman said she felt compelled to resign for good in the summer of 2018 after repeatedly being called a racial epithet by a 6-year-old who was the owners’ grandchild and a supervisor’s son.

Ms. Chapman filed suit in U.S. District Court in Asheville, North Carolina, charging hostile work environment and constructive discharge under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The district court granted the facility summary judgment dismissing the case and was overturned by a unanimous three-judge appeals court panel.

The decision analyzed three “n-word” incidents, including one in which the boy indicated he was repeating a disparaging comment about Ms. Chapman from his father, a supervisor at the facility.

Considering the circumstances, including that the boy was her supervisor’s son, “the fact that the three n-word incidents were perpetrated by a six-year-old boy does not preclude a finding that those incidents are sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter Chapman’s conditions of employment and create an abusive work environment,” the ruling said, in reinstating her claims and remanding the case for further proceedings

Attorneys in the case did not respond to a request for comment or could not be reached.