Profanity No Crime, but N-Word a Firing Offense?

Posted January 5, 2011 in Labor and Employment by Arthur Buono

What’s in a word? In Pennsylvania, the State Police promises not to give out disorderly conduct citations for profanity. But a news reporter can take his discrimination claim to trial after being fired for dropping the N-word.

     
  • PA State Police can’t cite you for swearing at them or anyone else
  • Reporter sues TV station over N-word firing
  • Does Title VII prohibit N-word use double-standard?
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First Amendment Shields Profanity, Title VII N-Word?

The Pennsylvania State Police issued some 750 citations for profanity in a recent one-year period. No more. The ACLU sued them over a citation issued to a woman who had choice words for a reckless motorcyclist. Profane words and gestures are constitutionally protected. Cops can’t bust you just for swearing at them or anyone else.

But the police are the state. The First Amendment usually doesn’t protect you from firing if your profane speech offends workplace decorum. Employment discrimination laws might, though. A white Philadelphia TV reporter is suing the station that fired him for using the N-word. He spoke the word in an editorial meeting about reportage of an NAACP mock funeral for the same.

He claims the station would not have fired African American personnel for using the word in the same context. The facts are in dispute, and the federal judge handling the case says it’s not clear Title VII would prohibit the alleged double standard. So the trial will proceed.

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