Customer Sues for Racial Slur on CVS Receipt

By Brett Snider, Esq. on April 19, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A CVS store is in hot water this week over a racial slur that appeared on a customer's receipt. Customer Hyan Lee was more than dismayed when she found that her CVS receipt for photographs read "Ching Chong Lee."

Lee was furious when she learned that CVS had merely disciplined and counseled the employee responsible for the slur, and has filed a $1 million lawsuit, The Huffington Post reports.

Given the current state of anti-discrimination laws and policies, Lee likely has more than one legal leg to stand on.

Laws Against Discrimination

States often have specific laws preventing private businesses from discriminating based on race, sex, and religion. New Jersey, where the CVS racial slur incident took place, is no exception.

The aptly named New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) prohibits private business from differential treatment based on race.

However, the LAD may not apply to Lee's case unless CVS can be shown to have denied benefits, privileges or services based on her race. CVS may argue that its employee's conduct did not rise to that standard.

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

As the target of the slurs, Hyan Lee may have a case against CVS and its employee for personal injury, under the theory of intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED).

With an IIED claim, Lee can potentially collect damages from the parties responsible for the racial slur, assuming a jury is convinced that the act:

  • Is extreme or outrageous,
  • Was intentional or reckless, and
  • Caused severe emotional distress.

Under the theory of respondiat superior, an employer can potentially be held responsible for an employee's intentional torts, like IIED.

This responsibility, however, only applies to actions taken by an employee within the scope of his employment. So CVS could try to argue that the employee was acting outside of that scope when he typed the racial slur onto the receipt.

Negligent Hiring/Training

Lee may also try to collect damages from CVS on the basis that they were negligent in hiring or training its employee, which led to Lee's severe emotional distress. If so, CVS' employee training manuals and policies may come into play.

The CVS racial slur incident follows similar cases involving restaurant receipts, some of which have resulted in out-of-court settlements. Even when on a flimsy paper receipt, it is clear that no one deserves to be called a racial slur.

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