By Kate Alexander
WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court has, for the second time, said a Prince George’s County black man can sue his former employer for his supervisor’s “continuous daily” racial slurs.
The U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday reversed a lower court’s dismissal of James H. Spriggs’ lawsuit against Diamond Auto Glass in Forestville for allowing a hostile work environment.
Spriggs said that his supervisor repeatedly used racial slurs and actions, calling him a “dumb monkey,” “nigger” and other names. In one such incident described in court documents, he said the supervisor, Ernest Stickell, took a full-page picture of a monkey with the notation, “so you’ll never forget who you are,” and put it inside a manual regularly used by Spriggs.
The appeals court referred to Stickell’s use of the word “monkey” to describe African-Americans as “odious.”
“To suggest that a human being’s physical appearance is essentially a caricature of a jungle beast goes far beyond the merely unflattering; it is degrading and humiliating in the extreme,” wrote Circuit Judge Robert B. King in the court opinion.
Spriggs’ attorney, Herbert Dubin, lauded the unanimous ruling from the three-judge panel but said the victory was tempered by the court’s refusal to transfer the case out of Baltimore. U.S. District Judge Frederic Smalkin has twice dismissed Spriggs’ case, only to be overturned by the circuit court both times.
This time around, Dubin says he will have the benefit of a jury.
“How could a juror in his right mind say no way that that was not a hostile work environment?” Dubin asked.
The attorney for Diamond Auto Glass, Angus Everton, said his client has yet to determine whether it will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but he noted that Stickell, who is still employed with Diamond, denies the facts as alleged.
Spriggs, who lives in Landover Hills, was employed as a customer service representative at the Forestville store from July 1993 until August 1995, according to court documents. He complained to the company about Stickell’s behavior and quit when it failed to adequately respond to his complaints.
Spriggs was wooed back to the store in September 1996 by management’s assurances that Stickell’s behavior would change.
But Spriggs claims that nothing changed, and he left the store in protest in February 1997. When he returned the next month, Stickell presented him with a new job duties that Spriggs believed to be “unduly onerous and racially motivated.” Rather than accept the new conditions, Spriggs resigned.