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Monday, September 15th, 2014

NY Jury Awards Black Woman $280,000 After Boss Uses N-Word Repeatedly in Rant

Brandi Johnson, left, with attorney Marjorie Sharpe

Brandi Johnson, left, with attorney Marjorie Sharpe

The debate has raged for generations on whether the N-word should be used in the black community, but a Manhattan jury has come down hard on the side of “No!” by awarding $280,000 to a black woman who said her boss—a black man of Puerto Rican descent—created a hostile work environment by calling her a n***r repeatedly during an offensive rant.

Brandi Johnson, 38, received an award of $250,000 last week in compensatory damages by the jury of six men and two women. Yesterday, the jury added another $30,000 in punitive damages against the nonprofit STRIVE East Harlem program and its highly acclaimed founder Rob Carmona.

Johnson’s attorney Marjorie Sharpe said she hopes the case sends a message to society at large.“It’s the most offensive word in the English language,” Sharpe told reporters as she stood outside federal court in Manhattan.The case focused a legal microscope on the word that continues to draw controversy as it is still used extensively in the African-American culture and in hip-hop music, offending many and prompting whites to continually ask why they can’t use the word if African-Americans can.

Sharpe said the double standard had persisted far too long as “people have tried to take the sting away from the N-word.”For her part, Johnson said she hopes the word now “won’t be tolerated no matter what your race is.”During the trial, Carmona, 61, said he was dispensing the same kind of tough love he got from counselors who were instrumental in his transformation from a drug addict with an arrest record, into the creator of a widely acclaimed organization that has helped nearly 50,000 hard-to-employ people find work since 1984.

Johnson used her iPhone to record Carmona’s March 2012 tirade about inappropriate workplace attire and unprofessional behavior. The rant was played for the jury and described by both sides as the trial’s centerpiece. Johnson told the jury she cried for 45 minutes in the restroom afterward.

“I was offended. I was hurt. I felt degraded. I felt disrespected. I was embarrassed,” Johnson testified.

In a statement, Carmona’s lawyer Diane Krebs, said, “We are disappointed by the verdict, as we do not believe that it comports with the full facts applicable to the case. Nevertheless, we respect the jury’s decision and the judicial process. We are exploring all our options moving forward, including appeal, and look forward to the judicial process taking its entire course.”

During his tirade, Carmona told Johnson, ”You and (a previous employee) are just alike. Both of you are smart as s—, but dumb as s—. You know what it is … both of you are n——, y’all act like n—— all the time…And I’m not saying the term n—— as derogatory; sometimes it’s good to know when to act like a n—–, but y’all act like n—— all the time … both of you very bright, but both y’all act like n—— at inappropriate times,” Carmona said in the audio recording.

After the verdict, Johnson rejected Carmona’s claims from the witness stand that the verdict had made him realize he needs to “take stock” of how he communicates with people he is trying to help.

“I come from a different time,” Carmona said hesitantly, tearing up.

But Sharpe told jurors they were “ghost tears.”

“So now, now you’re sorry?” Johnson said outside court, adding that Carmona had refused to apologize to her in court last week. She said he should have been sorry “the day when he told me the N-word eight times.”

About Nick Chiles

Nick Chiles is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and New York Times bestselling author. He has written or co-written 12 books and won over a dozen major journalism awards during a journalism career that brought him to the Dallas Morning News, the Star-Ledger of New Jersey and New York Newsday, in addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief of Odyssey Couleur travel magazine.

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