New Jersey Supreme Court rules that supervisor’s use of ethnic slurs against an employee on only two occasions is enough to establish a hostile work environment claim

The New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously held that a supervisor’s two instances of offensive slurs were sufficient to support a hostile work environment claim.

On June 16, 2021, the Court held in Rios Jr. v. Meda Pharmaceutical, Inc., that two offensive slurs from a supervisor were severe and pervasive enough to establish a hostile work environment claim under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“NJLAD”).

Plaintiff, Rios, is a Hispanic male who had been working at Media Pharmaceutical, Inc. since May 2015. On two occasions his direct supervisor used an ethnic slur while speaking to him. Rios brought the issue to Human Resources but they did not take any action.

The Court held that when viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, a rational jury would be able to conclude that the slurs uttered by a direct supervisor were sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile work environment. The Court took into consideration that the plaintiff reported the incident to his employer and the employer took no action. This decision significantly broadens the scope of the severe and pervasive standard necessary to assert a claim under the NJLAD.