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Employer May Discipline Employee for Racial Slur
Description Off-duty city firefighter utter racial slur against city police officer. Incident resulted in suspension without pay. Speech was not protected by First Amendment. Employer followed proper procedure.
Topic Constitutional Law
Key Words Protected Speech, Racial Slur
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Karins, an off-duty City of Atlantic City firefighter, was interviewed by a white police officer for suspicion of drunk driving. When the officer called to his black partner, Karins said "Oh no, don't start that nigger shit!" Karins was not charged with any offenses, but the officers made a report of the incident. Karins was charged with violations of the Atlantic City Fired Department code of conduct and suspended for 48 working days without pay. The case eventually ended up in the Maryland high court.
Court Decision The suspension stands. The racial slur was not protected speech under the First Amendment. The administrative procedures of the Fire Department were not too vague regarding the policy against creating a hostile work environment, verbal abuse, and unprofessional conduct. Karins had been suspended previously in another racial slur incident; the procedure followed was proper. Employers have the right to have work rules that limit the use of offensive language.
Citation Karins v. City of Atlantic City, 1998 WL 63078 (Sup. Ct., N.J.)
706 A 2d 706 (Sup. Ct., N. J., 1998)

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