As more and more troubling questions regarding Amy Coney Barrett’s testimony in her Supreme Court nomination hearing continue to arise, so do more and more troubling decisions from her judicial record. A report by the Associated Press now points to a written decision by Coney Barrett which claims that use of racist language does not create a hostile workplace.
Coney Barrett penned an opinion just last year in the case of Smith v. Illinois Department of Transportation in which a former transportation employee, Terry Smith, sued for discrimination following his firing. Smith claimed he endured workplace discrimination, including use of the “n-word” by his supervisor.
In her opinion, Coney Barrett decided that enduring racial epitaphs does not constitute discrimination or the creation of a hostile work environment. “The n-word is an egregious racial epithet,” Barrett wrote. “That said, Smith can’t win simply by proving that the word was uttered. He must also demonstrate that Colbert’s use of this word altered the conditions of his employment and created a hostile or abusive working environment.” She further ruled that Smith “introduced no evidence that Colbert’s use of the n-word changed his subjective experience of the workplace. To be sure, Smith testified that his time at the Department caused him psychological distress. But that was for reasons that predated his run-in with Colbert and had nothing to do with his race. His tenure at the Department was rocky from the outset because of his poor track record.”
Ironically, Coney Barrett clashed with an unlikely opponent in her ruling: conservative Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. “But, in my view, being called the n-word by a supervisor … suffices by itself to establish a racially hostile work environment. That epithet has been labeled, variously, a term that ‘sums up . . . all the bitter years of insult and struggle in America,’ ‘pure anathema to African-Americans,’ and ’probably the most offensive word in English,” Kavanaugh wrote in 2013. “No other word in the English language so powerfully or instantly calls to mind our country’s long and brutal struggle to overcome racism and discrimination against African-Americans. In short, the case law demonstrates that a single, sufficiently severe incident may create a hostile work environment actionable under federal anti-discrimination laws.”
Coney Barrett is the mother of two Black children through adoption.