As reported in Local Press, a Redmond, Washington-area carpenter for BNBuilders was threatened with a noose bearing his name at a Meta (formerly Facebook) worksite, after being subjected to the n-word, “jokes” about picking cotton, and other racially derogatory remarks and conduct from his supervisor and coworkers. Friedman & Houlding LLP represents the carpenter, James Myers.
Employer BNBuilders was the general contractor on Meta’s Building X construction site in Redmond, Washington. Press reports that carpenter James Myers, an African-American man, endured racially offensive comments from early in his employment with BNBuilders. Multiple times employees called him “black boy” when asking him to complete tasks. His supervisors made extremely racially offensive “jokes”: an Assistant Superintendent repeatedly told Myers “I’m woke” in a derisive manner, then asked Myers’s Lead, “are you woke?” His lead replied, “I ain’t racist– n***** n***** n*****!”–repeating the N-word several times. The Assistant Superintendent and Lead then laughed, while Myers watched in shock.
More than once, his Assistant Superintendent racially harassed Myers using “cotton”: in front of multiple employees in the field. His AS walked up to Myers and told him: “James, I got something for you.” Myers saw that something was clasped in his AS’ hand. Conscious of all the tradesworkers watching, Myers told him “no,” and tried to deflect him. His AS insisted, “open it!” He then took and opened Myers’s hand, and handed him a ball of “cotton”–the white fiber from cottonwood trees, resembling that of agricultural cotton plants. His AS told Myers, “I picked it for you!” and laughed uproariously.
Myers, who had been through a carpentry apprenticeship program and needed only a few more hours of work to become a journeyman, tried to continue working to achieve his goals despite enduring this constant harassment. Finally, when he could not bear the harassment any longer, Myers was constructively discharged: he gave his two weeks’ notice at BNBuilders, and planned to work at a different employer. Over the following days, Myers realized he could not find his speed square, a triangle-shaped tool of the trade. On his next to last day at BNBuilders, Myers found his speed square taped to a hanging noose–with Myers’ name written on the tape.
BNB left the noose hanging for the remainder of the day, while numerous employees walked in and out of the room and saw it–further humiliating Myers. Later that day, the Lead man asked Myers: “James, did you find your speed square?” Laughing, he continued: “I hung it right in your face!” BNB supervisors never removed the noose–rather, a couple of Myers’s coworkers told him the following day that they had finally taken it down themselves because they were tired of looking at it.
Myers’s horrifying experience is one among a series of incidents in which African-American workers have been subjected to nooses hung on construction sites around the country.When supervisors and employees make clear that they feel free to make highly racially offensive “jokes,” and use racial slurs on the job, this only clears the path for harassers to use these symbols of historical terror to intimidate their African-American coworkers.
Myers plans to pursue his claims of harassment and constructive discharge against BNBuilders under federal civil rights law. His brave act of opposing the harassment and intimidation takes a necessary step toward eradicating racial harassment in the construction trades.