Ex-Employee Can Sue for Racist Receipt Defamation

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on June 13, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

It looks like racism is still alive and rampant in parts of the South. Now, an employee who inadvertently ended up looking racist in a work-related misunderstanding can bring a lawsuit for defamation against her former employer, reports the Insurance Journal.

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals held that Jessica Cockram can bring a lawsuit against Genesco Inc. for firing her, after she inadvertently gave a customer a receipt with racial slurs on it. At the time of the incident, Cockram was a clerk at a store owned by Genesco.

The incident took place in 2008 when Cockram was processing a return for a customer. In order to speed up the return, she entered a generic phone number of (555)555-5555. She didn't realize at the time that a former employee had programmed the cash register to enter names and addresses containing racial slurs and comments on "white power."

Cockram handed the receipt to the customer, who happened to be African American. From that point on, you can guess what happened.

There was uproar and the store had to issue an apology. In the process, they fired Cockram and addressed the issue in public without necessarily specifying that the cash register had been programmed by a different employee.

As a result, Cockram suffered threats. She was even forced to put her child in the care of her parents during the uproar.

In 2011, the district court dismissed Cockram's case. Now, a three-judge panel of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that Cockram has a case. The comments and statements made by the company, the court said, carried a "sting" which could lead people to believe that Cockram had been behind the racial statements.

As such, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that a reasonable jury could find that the statements made by the company could have an impact on Cockram's reputation.

The case is now being sent back to the district court.

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