Black Court Officer Called “N-Word” By Supreme Judicial Court Supervisor Files Discrimination Complaint

Employment, Racial Justice

Black Court Officer Called “N-Word” By Supreme Judicial Court Supervisor Files Discrimination Complaint

Courts Under Federal Scrutiny For Toxic Racial Environment

Boston, MA – A Black court officer today filed a discrimination complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD), alleging that the Chief Court Officer for the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) called her a “nigger” following an assignment at the John Adams Courthouse in Boston.  The complaint, which comes amidst an ongoing federal investigation into a toxic racial climate in the Massachusetts Trial Courts, also describes a retaliatory “blame the victim” approach by the court system to handling internal discrimination complaints.

“No employee should be subjected to this type of discrimination, particularly not at our Commonwealth’s highest court,” said Attorney Sophia Hall of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, which filed the complaint on the court officer’s behalf.  “What was especially disturbing was to see how the court system turned its scrutiny on our client when she tried to pursue an internal complaint.”

The complainant, Misty Baker, has been an Associate Court Officer for nearly a decade, providing courthouse security. She has an exemplary record of service, including two commendations.  Following a temporary assignment at the John Adams Courthouse, she learned that the SJC’s Chief Court Officer had called her a “nigger,” loudly enough for others to hear. “I was deeply offended by this racial slur,” said Ms. Baker.  “When I learned of this incident and that it had spread widely throughout the court system, as a Black woman, I was professionally humiliated, personally embarrassed, and upset.”

When Ms. Baker filed an internal discrimination complaint, court officials and investigators targeted her for extra scrutiny – including asking for access to her personnel files and reviewing videotapes of her at work.  Approximately three months later, she received a one-sentence dismissal of her complaint.  The very same day, the Trial Court issued her a formal disciplinary notice – the first of her career. “I feel the court did not take my complaint seriously, and disciplining me sent a strong message to me and other minorities that instead of asking for help, we should stay silent. I will not be intimidated or bullied into inaction. I am coming forward with my discrimination complaint to inspire others to do the same,” added Ms. Baker.

The United States Department of Justice is currently investigating the racial culture in Massachusetts courts, following reports from numerous employees of color of a toxic racially-charged hostile environment that fosters identity-based discrimination and harassment.  This includes repeated use of the “n” word and calling employees of color “monkeys” and “spics”; offensive comments made to Asian-American employees; belittling remarks made to Latino employees about their accents and ability to speak English; and derogatory comments to immigrants about getting “deported.”

Michael Alkins, head of the Massachusetts Minority Court Officer Association, stated: “Minority court officers are not treated equally by the courts.  But employees are often afraid to speak up about discrimination issues because they fear intimidation and retaliation.”

Attorney Hall of the Lawyers’ Committee added: “The culture within the court system appears to be highly resistant to attempts to diversify the workforce and to bring public accountability to employment practices. When a workplace culture is that entrenched, it often takes outside intervention to bring about meaningful change.  The case we filed today exemplifies exactly why that federal intervention is so critical.”

This lawsuit against our state’s highest court was featured in the Boston Globe, Boston Herald, Boston 25 News, and WCVB.