A Pennsylvania truck driver terminated for repeatedly using the N-word to refer to himself and his colleagues is ineligible for unemployment aid, a divided state appeals court ruled Wednesday.
Members of the state Commonwealth Panel voted 2-1 to block unemployment benefits for driver Stephen L. Kraft, who was booted from his job in March 2017. As noted in the court majority opinion, Kraft found himself jobless after telling an African-American trainee that he (Kraft) was “n—-r number one,” a white supervisor was “n—-r number two” and that the Black trainee could be “n—-r number three.”
“It is important to emphasize …. that (Kraft) was not fired for using racial slurs alone. (He) was fired for creating a hostile work environment by using racial slurs and other derogatory language directed towards the trainee,” Judge Ellen Ceisler wrote. “… Racial Slurs, by their very nature, constitute offensive conduct.”
Kraft, a 12-year employee of Carlisle-based Allen Distribution company, admitted to using the slurs and calling the trainee an “idiot,” but insisted he only meant it as a joke. He was ultimately fired for violating the company’s anti-harassment policy, which prohibits the use of slurs, derogatory jokes, stereotypes and even nicknames, according to PennLive.
Kraft appealed his case to the Commonwealth Court after the Pennsylvania Unemployment Compensation Board of Review denied his request for unemployment aid on grounds that he committed “willful misconduct” by violating company policy. In making his case, the ex- trucker argued his firing was discriminatory, claiming his former employer didn’t terminate other driver’s who’d used similarly offensive language.
Kraft’s sole supporter, Senior Judge Dan Pellegrini, dissented with his fellow judges, arguing that the issue of the case was “whether an employee commits willful misconduct by using a racial slur when the employer has tolerated racial slurs in the past.”
“Simply, an unenforced work rule is not a work rule but a piece of paper,” Pellegrini wrote, adding there was proof Allen Distribution failed to fire other workers who also used racial slurs.
He was overruled, however.