‘Buckwheat’ a racial slur? NJ sheriff’s worker keeps job, wins $100K back pay
JERSEY CITY — A Hudson County Sheriff's Office employee who had been fired after likening a black subordinate to a black character from "The Little Rascals" had his termination overturned and was awarded backpay of more than $100,000.
David Anthony, a management specialist with the department, admitted to referencing "Buckwheat" while talking to colleagues, including Serita Broady, on Nov. 28, 2012, but denied knowing it was considered a racial slur, according to a Civil Service Commission decision released earlier this year.
Anthony argued that he was only attempting to engage in light banter and that the remark was not intended to be discriminatory, according to a Civil Service Commission summary of the case that spanned years through various courts.
Anthony said Broady asked what what he thought of her outfit, and responded in part about a "Buckwheat hat look going on." He said he had not meant to offend Broady, and that at the time none of the employees who heard the conversation objected to his comment.
Anthony said that a "diversity dictionary" that he received from the Sheriff's Office listed 400 terms that are considered offensive, but "Buckwheat" — a character that some now consider to negatively stereotype blacks — was not one of them.
While an administrative law judge found that the term was "particularly offensive" to the woman, the judge determined that Anthony was guilty of conduct unbecoming a public employee, not insubordination. As such, the judge found that Anthony deserved suspension, not termination.
The county fired Anthony in September 2013 after a departmental hearing. He appealed to the Civil Service Commission, which sent the matter to the Office of Administrative Law. He also filed a lawsuit in Superior Court, which resulted in a judge ordering a new departmental hearing and awarding back pay.
After the second departmental hearing, his removal was upheld on Dec. 1, 2014. In another appeal, an administrative law judge recommended a 90-day suspension rather than removal. The commission agreed with the conclusions of the judge, but in August 2015 changed the removal to a 30-day suspension.
Anthony claimed despite the order to be reinstated in August 2015, he was not returned to his job until the end of November. The appointing authority objected to Anthony getting back pay because he "unreasonably delayed proceedings in this matter by withdrawing his appeal, filing a separate matter in Superior Court, and failing to appear for a departmental hearing."
Anthony denied delaying the proceedings.
Earlier this year, the Civil Service Commission awarded Anthony $107,477 in back pay. He was also awarded $3,466 in reimbursement for his health care benefit costs. Anthony had requested $4,601 for the coverage of his whole family, but the court determined he was only eligible for his own benefits.
Calls to the Hudson County Sheriff's Office seeking information on Anthony's employment status were not returned Tuesday.
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Contact reporter Adam Hochron at 609-359-5326 or Adam.Hochron@townsquaremedia.com