Black Pipefitter sues BAE Systems for Racial Harassment

Friedman & Houlding LLP represents Doretha Steeples in her suit against Defendant BAE Systems Ship Repair, Inc., alleging a racially hostile work environment and related claims. Ms. Steeples, who is Black, began working as a skilled pipefitter at the BAE Norfolk shipyard in May 2018. Her Complaint alleges that a Caucasian coworker used racially derogatory language in front of her and others. The coworker referred to Black women as “ghetto-fabulous bitches” and “wratched-nasty hoes.” Soon after Ms. Steeples began working at the shipyard, the coworker stated in front of Ms. Steeples and others, “These fucking n*ggers get on my effin’ nerves.”

Witnesses corroborate Ms. Steeples’ allegations of racial harassment in sworn Declarations submitted with Ms. Steeples’ federal Complaint. BAE had received multiple complaints about the coworkers’ racial invectives on prior occasions. Even though BAE was already on notice of the co-worker’s racial abuse, nevertheless, Ms. Steeples reported the racial harassment to management, including to a BAE project planner and a BAE supervisor, who both stated that they would address the issue. Yet the harassment continued. Ms. Steeples endured comments from her coworker referring to Black employees as “n*ggerish” and other comments concerning the coworker’s boyfriend’s violent conduct around people of color, wherein the coworker would spew references to Black people as “n*ggers.”

When nothing was done to address the ongoing harassment, Ms. Steeples went to the Pipe Shop Foreman, Tony Featherstone, who assured Ms. Steeples that he would report her complaint to Human Resources. Ms. Steeples never heard from HR concerning her complaint.

Meanwhile, Ms. Steeples was required to continue working with the harassing coworker, and the racial hostility continued. Tensions between Ms. Steeples and her harasser boiled to a point where the harasser falsely accused Ms. Steeples of physically assaulting her. Before Defendant cleared Ms. Steeples of wrongdoing, BAE suspended her for a day, and, shortly after clearing her, transferred her to the night shift where she endured more physically challenging conditions. The night shift supervisor admitted to Ms. Steeples that the transfer was a result of the situation involving her harasser. Unable to endure the tough conditions of the night shift and BAE’s tolerance of her coworkers’ racial harassment, Ms. Steeples felt forced to turn in her resignation.

The constant barrage of slurs and racially derogatory comments from her harasser, and as alleged in the Complaint, BAE’s refusal to take action to stop it, caused Ms. Steeples extraordinary distress. She feared for her physical safety. Ms. Steeples began sleeping in her living room because she knew that her harasser was aware of her home address and was afraid that the harasser or the harasser’s allegedly violent boyfriend might threaten her at her house. The ongoing stress caused Ms. Steeples to suffer a nervous breakdown.

This is a case in which the employee – Ms. Steeples – did everything right. As alleged in her Complaint, she told her harassing co-worker to stop the offending behavior. When that failed, she reported it to her supervisor. When that failed, she reported it to HR. Yet, instead of Defendant following the law, it never took action to stop the harasser’s offending behavior and transferred Ms. Steeples to the night shift. In her lawsuit, Ms. Steeples seeks vindication of her civil rights and compensation for the emotional torment and lost wages that she suffered and continues to experience. Her lawsuit is pending in federal court in the Eastern District of Virginia.

BAE Norfolk has been the subject of previous discrimination accusations. In 2016, it agreed to a $4.5 million settlement. Aviles v. BAE Systems Norfolk Ship Repair Inc. was a class action that involved allegations of sexual harassment, and discrimination in promotion and pay, against women shipyard workers. The settlement, agreed to by all parties, including a class of 175 women. The settlement was to compensate the class for the alleged discrimination, required future promotions be based on job performance and improved BAE’s response to sexual harassment complaints during the period of Court supervision. The plaintiffs in Aviles v. BAE were African American, like Ms. Steeples.

Related Coverage:

Former BAE Norfolk shipyard worker sues, says complaints about racially hostile co-worker were ignored

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