NEW YORK (AP) — In a case that gave a legal airing to the debate over use of the N-word among blacks, a federal jury has rejected a black manager’s argument that it was a term of love and endearment when he aimed it at a black employee.

Jurors awarded $30,000 in punitive damages Tuesday after finding last week that the manager’s four-minute rant was hostile and discriminatory, and awarding $250,000 in compensatory damages.

The case against Rob Carmona and the employment agency he founded, STRIVE East Harlem, hinged on the what some see as a complex double standard surrounding the word: It’s a degrading slur when uttered by whites but can be used at times with impunity among blacks.

But 38-year-old Brandi Johnson told jurors that being black didn’t make it any less hurtful when Carmona repeatedly targeted her with the slur during a March 2012 tirade about inappropriate workplace attire and unprofessional behavior.

Johnson, who taped the remarks after her complaints about his verbal abuse were disregarded, said she fled to the restroom and cried for 45 minutes.

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

The jury ordered Carmona to pay $25,000 in punitive damages and STRIVE to pay $5,000.

Outside court after her victory, Johnson said she was “very happy” and rejected Carmona’s claims from the witness stand Tuesday that the verdict 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, wiping his eyes repeatedly with a cloth.

“So now, now you’re sorry?” Johnson said outside court, saying she doubted his sincerity and noting Carmona had refused to apologize to her in court last week. She said he should have been sorry on March 14, 2012, “the day when he told me the N-word eight times.”

Her lawyer, Marjorie M. Sharpe, said she hoped the case sent a strong message to those who “have tried to take the sting out of the N-word. … It’s the most offensive word in the English language.”

Carmona left the courthouse without immediately commenting, as did all eight jurors.

In a statement, STRIVE said it was disappointed but was exploring its options, including an appeal and looking forward to the “judicial process taking its entire course.”

It also cited Johnson as a “prime example of the second chances that STRIVE provides to both its participants and nonparticipants alike.”

It noted that Johnson, who was never a STRIVE participant, was employed there despite a previous conviction for grand larceny that required her to pay about $100,000 in restitution. The judge barred lawyers from telling jurors about the conviction.

In closing arguments, Sharpe had said Carmona’s use of the word was intended to offend “and any evidence that defendants put forth to the contrary is simply ridiculous.”

“When you use the word nigger to an African-American, no matter how many alternative definitions that you may try to substitute with the word nigger, that is no different than calling a Hispanic by the worst possible word you can call a Hispanic, calling a homosexual male the worst possible word that you can call a homosexual male,” Sharpe told jurors.

But Carmona’s lawyers said the 61-year-old black man of Puerto Rican descent had a much different experience with the word. Raised by a single mother in a New York City public housing project, he became addicted to heroin in his teens and broke it with the help of drug counselors who employed tough love and tough language.

Carmona went on to earn a master’s degree from Columbia University before co-founding STRIVE in the 1980s. Now, most of STRIVE’s employees are black women, his attorney, Diane Krebs, told jurors in her opening statement.

“And Mr. Carmona is himself black, as you yourselves can see,” Krebs said.

In his testimony, Carmona defended his use of the word, saying he used it with Johnson to convey that she was “too emotional, wrapped up in her, at least the negative aspects of human nature.”

Then he explained that the word has “multiple contexts” in the black and Latino communities, sometimes indicating anger, sometimes love.

Carmona said he might put his arm around a longtime friend in the company of another and say: “This is my nigger for 30 years.”

“That means my boy, I love him, or whatever,” he said.

He was asked if he meant to indicate love when he called Johnson the word.

“Yes, I did,” he responded.

The controversy is a blemish on STRIVE, which has been heralded for helping people with troubled backgrounds get into the workforce. Its employment model, which was described in a CBS’ “60 Minutes” piece as “part boot camp, part group therapy,” claims to have helped nearly 50,000 people find work since 1984.

Sharpe told jurors that STRIVE’s tough-love program cannot excuse Carmona’s behavior.

“Well, if calling a person a nigger and subjecting them to a hostile work environment is part of STRIVE’s tough love, then STRIVE needs to be reminded that this type of behavior is illegal and cannot be tolerated,” she said.

What do you think? Was the black employer wrong to use the n-word?

(Photo: AP)

22 thoughts on “NY Case Puts N-word Use Among Blacks on Trial

  1. The employer was wrong an got what he deserved. I just don’t think there’s any good way to use this word. Even when it comes from an African American.

    • Is the same person Ty…he has 5 screen names and uses them all to pretend other folks think like him. Kinda pathetic isn’t it? He has gone so far to try and hide his ip address but I can still track him. He does the same stuff on The Grio too. He uses hot spots to connect and roam around sites usually around the same time. No internet access at home?? Typical white trash….don’t worry a few more meth pills he won’t be around much longer.

  2. Who cares about Syria! I don’t think Black people care enough about themselves and need to focus more on Black issues and not on Syrians or any other race for that matter. I don’t see any Syrians standing up for Black issues.

  3. Can you say distraction…. Do black people care about anything else other than themselves? We are about to go to war with yet another country and all BAW can talk about are social issues… intellectually challenged are we?

    • Candy actually intelligent people can think, and talk about more than one thing at a time. Syria is on lots of people’s minds, and also the high unemployment rate (especially) among Black men.

  4. Meanwhile in Syria…. but you go ahead and enjoy your settlement because someone used a word you didn’t like…. black people are hopeless.

    In some of the most graphic footage, dozens of bodies, including many small children and babies, were seen laid out in rows on the floor of a clinic.

    Continue reading the main story WARNING: You may find some images disturbing. Online images showed victims of the attack convulsing, with pinpointed pupils, excessive saliva and difficulty in breathing. This close-up shot of a male victim shows his glazed eyes, with contracted pupils.
    Some of the first footage showed victims laid out on pavements to be washed down with water
    Some of the victims showed frothing at the mouth and convulsions.
    Continue reading the main story
    previous slide next slide While opposition activists initially said 300 people were killed in the attack, the casualty figure they gave quickly rose to over 1,000 people.

    • JanCorey on said:

      Someone has to use the welfare dollars the whites and other non-black races worked so hard to achieve, what else would the blacks be able to do if there was no longer anymore welfare programs? Work? Ain’t gonna happen, as history has already shown us all. At least they are killing their own like in Chicago, Detroit, and any other larger city, so I think that problem has been solved. Avail weapons to them and they will self-exterminate themselves. Eliminate the welfare programs and they will then be forced to move to Mexico since they collectively do not have a high enough education to land a job in the 50 states to support the huge number of kids they continue to squirt out and we pay for. If bullets became free for blacks, I think they might just resolve their own problem fairly quickly and every other race will be require to own and carry firearms at all times to eliminate any black threat. Potentially, problem solved.

      • FYI- 62% of whites receive assistance! Oh I forgot why let facts get in your narrow minded viewpoint.


      • JanCorey on said:

        RL, most of those white welfare recipients are there only because of the deadbeat-black fathers to those whites that had children by them blacks and the whites are paying for that. Double-Checkmate, game over!!!

  5. It depends on how the word was used. A white person can never use the N-word with good intentions but we as Blacks know when using Black vernacular, Ebonics or slang whatever you want to call it that one word can have several different meanings. It’s the same with the N-word. For example the word “Tight”.

    To my knowledge tight to other races means something is restricting “like your pants are too tight”. When another Black person says to me “That was tight” he/she is saying something is good. In another context if a Black person says “You’re tight” this means you’re stingy or penny-pinching with your money. If a Black person says “Me and you is tight” this means that he/she considers themselves to be very close with that person. Again another context if a Black person says “Damn she tight” this means she looks very attractive. And let’s not forget about the opposites that could be used also in every case above for example “She is far from tight. That’s potentially 12 different meanings for the same word.

      • JanCorey on said:

        Sure will, I suppose it might be prudent to bring a few extra clips too just in case, you know how stupid those types are.

      • Mike why are you even wasting your time responding to Jan. It’s very evident that they are a VERY WEAK, AND INSECURE PERSON!! In short they feel insecure with themselves….so they have to try to belittle other people to make them feel good. I find it quite humorous

  6. RIGHT DECISION BY JURORS: Unequivocally, the CONTEXT and the INTENT by Carmona was with malice & ill will & the fact he would not apologize validates the Jurors ruling.

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