We all know that words matter. However, sometimes people use offensive or disrespectful words or slurs in the workplace. Workplaces often have policies in place that lay out prohibited behaviors and establish disciplinary actions for infractions, including use of disrespectful language. Such discipline can range from a write-up to termination and depends on the specific offense. Is use of a racial epithet grounds for termination?
Dustin Bonial worked as a lineman for the City of Alexandria. Bonial was accused of using a racial epithet in reference to a coworker while in the breakroom, which violated the city’s workplace conduct policy. The city terminated Bonial. Bonial filed an appeal with the Alexandria Civil Service Commission.
At the hearing, Bonial agreed he had called his coworker by the racial epithet. He claimed people had used the epithet in reference to the coworker multiple times before, and the coworker had been okay with it. Bonial’s supervisor testified the use of racial epithets adversely affected morale and efficient operations.
The Commission affirmed Bonial’s termination. Bonial filed a petition for review of the Commission’s decision with the trial court, which agreed with the Commission’s decision. Bonial then filed an appeal.
There were no factual disputes about what had happened during the at-issue event. Therefore, the appellate court focused on whether Bonial’s termination was commensurate with his infraction and had legal cause. Bonial claimed the Commission erred in finding his termination was appropriate for the given infraction of using a racial epithet.
Under Lange v. Orleans Levee Dist., there can be cause to terminate an employee if the employee’s conduct is prejudicial to the public service or harms efficient operations. Bonial’s direct supervisor had testified the use of racial epithets harmed the city’s efficient operations and destroyed morale because linemen needed to know they could trust each other. Bonial’s supervisor described the use of the racial epithet as driving a wedge through the entire department.
The colleague who Bonial had called the racial epithet indicated he felt mad and disrespected after Bonial used the racial epithet. Further, Bonial’s termination letter from the City referenced the specific policies and provisions Bonial had violated through his use of the racial epithet.
There was no evidence the Commission or trial court had acted arbitrarily or unreasonably in finding it was appropriate to terminate Bonial because of his use of the racial epithet. Thus, the city had not violated Civil Service Rule XIII, §2.6A and B because the termination was commensurate with Bonial’s infraction. Therefore, the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s ruling that the Commission had not erred in affirming Bonial’s termination.
This case illustrates the importance of being respectful in the workplace as well as being aware of and following relevant workplace policies. As Bonial learned the hard way, depending on your workplace’s policies, even a one-time offense of using an inappropriate and disrespectful phrase could lead to severe consequences such as termination from your job.
Additional Sources: Dustin Bonial v. City of Alexandria
Article Written By Berniard Law Firm
Additional Berniard Law Firm Article on Termination: What is a Good Faith Termination in an Employment Case?