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Black Tankerman Sues After Noose Incident


An African-American tankerman won an important ruling in Louisiana that will allow his lawsuit against the company he worked for to move forward. The lawsuit stemmed from an incident aboard a tugboat in which a Black employee reported a noose-like display aboard the ship. He confronted the captain about the incident, but the captain refused to accommodate the worker. He was transferred to another ship shortly thereafter. The worker believed that the crew was targeting him because of his race in an effort to threaten and intimidate him.

In your average lawsuit of this sort, a worker would have recourse to file a civil rights lawsuit against his employer on the grounds of workplace harassment and racial intimidation. In this case, however, the worker was forced to file a negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress lawsuit. Such lawsuits are much more difficult to win because precedent requires that the emotional injury be accompanied by a physical injury. Civil rights legislation does an end around this requirement and allows employees (only) to file civil rights lawsuits against their employers on the grounds of a hostile work environment, emotional stress, and other factors that do not require physical injury.

This is important to the lawsuit because the Black employee did not suffer a physical injury and at no point did his superior lay hands on him when addressing the issue.

Why is this not a civil rights/employment discrimination lawsuit? 

Civil rights lawsuits filed on the basis of workplace discrimination must be filed within six months to 300 days of the incident. Maritime law provides ship workers up to three years to file a suit. While shorebound workers usually don’t have a problem meeting the deadline, maritime can’t always. This creates a situation where employment discrimination statutes apply to some maritime cases, but not all of them.

This means that some maritime workers will have to find an alternative remedy to their dispute. This can often come in the form of suing the employer directly under common law tort rules. However, common-law tort rules do not necessarily provide a strong basis for filing a harassment claim.

In determining whether or not the common law tort rules apply, the courts are required to impose a three-factor test. The test is as follows:

  1. Did the supervisor make physical contact with the worker?
  2. Did the worker suffer physical injuries?
  3. Did the worker feel threatened aboard the ship?

While the first two are definitely ‘no’, the third question is what has allowed this case to survive. The display of a racially insensitive artifact would cause a worker to feel threatened in their place of work. On the basis of the third factor, the lawsuit has been allowed to proceed.

Talk to a Miami Maritime Lawyer Today 

Have you been the victim of sexual or racial discrimination aboard a maritime vessel? If so, call a seasoned maritime attorney and trained litigator to manage your case. Miami admiralty & maritime attorney Michael F. Guilford will fight for your right to a safe workplace. Call today to learn more.


Contact the Law Offices of Michael F. Guilford, P.A. for a free initial consultation with Michael Guilford. Flexible appointment times are available. If you can't come to us, we will come to you. Call toll free 866-473-2636 or describe your injuries in an email.

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