Yesterday, local morning news anchor Kristi Capel got herself into a bit of a mess when, during her newscast and while speaking to her African-American co-anchor, used “jigaboo” to refer to Lady Gaga’s music.
We can debate the sincerity of her explanation (“I deeply regret my insensitive comment. I didn’t know the meaning and would never intentionally use hurtful language. I sincerely apologize”), or the intent of her words. To me, she did not appear to intend hatred or bigotry, even if I don’t necessarily believe that she didn’t know the meaning of jigaboo. We can also debate whether she deserves to lose her job because of this incident. To me, if this is her first instance of racial insensitivity in the workplace, then there is no reason she must be fired (although Fox 8 certainly would be within its rights if it did so).
Instead, I want to use this story to illustrate a broader and much more useful point. In responding to workplace harassment, Title VII does not require that an employer deploy the most severe punishment. Instead, Title VII merely requires that an employer institute corrective action that is reasonably likely to prevent the harassment from re-occurring. Every workplace faux pas is not an excuse to punish. Yet, each presents an opportunity for an employer to teach, and for employees to learn.
In commenting on the incident, Fox 8’s news director said, “Kristi apologized on the air shortly after making the remark. She did not know what the word meant but that is no excuse for using it. We have spoken with her and are confident nothing like this will happen again.” Good response.