Last year, the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruled that there were no racial overtones when a white manager at a Tyson chicken plant in Gadsden, Ala., called adult black men working there “boy.”
“The usages were conversational” and “nonracial in context,” the majority wrote in a 2-to-1 decision that overturned a jury verdict of about $1.4 million in an employment discrimination case brought by a black Tyson employee, John Hithon.
Civil Rights attorneys decided to file a brief on the matter:
The brief urged the court to reconsider, making the case that “boy” retains its venom. For evidence, the brief drew on personal experiences, history, literary classics like “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Native Son,” and the writings of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“Boy,” the brief said, is either a proxy for or “at the very least a close cousin” of the most charged racial epithet.
On Dec. 16, more than a year after the initial decision, the appeals court reversed course. The new ruling was opaque and grudging, but Mr. Clemon said he welcomed it, particularly since it is very unusual for a federal appeals court panel simply to change its mind. “I don’t recall it ever happening,” said Mr. Clemon, who graduated from law school in 1968.