The more severe the harassment, the less pervasive it needs to be, and vice versa. Accordingly, unless the harassment is quite severe, a single incident or isolated incidents of offensive racial conduct or remarks generally do not create an abusive working environment. But a single, extremely serious incident of harassment may be sufficient to constitute a Title VII violation, especially if the harassment is physical. Examples of the types of single incidents that can create a hostile work environment based on race include: an actual or depicted noose or burning cross (or any other manifestation of an actual or threatened racially motivated physical assault), a favorable reference to the Ku Klux Klan, an unambiguous racial epithet such as the “N-word,” and a racial comparison to an animal. Racial comments or other acts that are not sufficiently severe standing alone may become actionable when repeated, although there is no threshold magic number of harassing incidents giving rise to liability. Moreover, investigators must be sensitive to the possibility that comments, acts, or symbols that might seem benign to persons of the harasser’s race could nevertheless create a hostile work environment for a reasonable person in the victim’s position.


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