Judge fails to see humor in N-word ‘joke,’ refuses to toss suit against Quinn Emanuel

Law Firms


A federal judge in Manhattan on Friday rejected a motion to dismiss a former secretary’s racial bias suit against Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, according to a transcript of a court hearing last Friday.

U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni said Quinn Emanuel had characterized an N-word remark by the firm’s trial logistics director as a “joke,” but she was “baffled” by that description, the New York Law Journal reports. The plaintiff, Spencer Marin, had alleged the comment and other remarks by the director had created a hostile work environment and that his complaint was met with retaliation.

Marin claimed the trial logistics director, Yllen Cruz, had made the remark in 2014 during the Apple v. Samsung patent trial in California. A black staff member said she had second thoughts about sharing her food during the trial, and Cruz allegedly remarked that the staffer was a “re-n____er.” Marin, who is also black, says he complained to Cruz and was sent back to New York.

Marin also alleged that Cruz said he was “not black enough” and asked him whether he had ever been arrested.

Quinn Emanuel partner Marc Greenwald told Caproni that the firm didn’t find the racial slur humorous and “we don’t think it’s a good joke.” But the firm was using the plaintiff’s own term in an email saying he did not appreciate the “N-word joke,” Greenwald said.

Caproni said she was “surprised, notwithstanding the complaint, the defendant has attempted to cast the use of the N-word as a poor attempt at humor or a bad pun. Remarks such as those are unacceptable in a civilized conversation. When they happen in a workplace, particularly when they come from a supervisor, not only are they unacceptable, they can be a basis for civil liability.”

Caproni said Marin’s amended lawsuit “just barely” states a claim for a hostile work environment, and it’s enough to survive a motion to dismiss. She added that she was “somewhat skeptical” that Marin would be able to show the complained of conduct was sufficiently pervasive to survive a later motion for summary judgment.

She also said the allegations were sufficient to support a retaliation claim, but “it may well not survive summary judgment.”

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