Articles Posted in Racial Harassment Cases

Friedman & Houlding LLP clients Derick Brown, Atiba Flemons, and Jeffrey Taylor, have brought a Class Action suit on behalf of Black employees at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, alleging that the University has a pattern or practice of tolerating racial harassment against its Black employees, and that the office charged with investigating complaints of racial harassment is itself discriminatory in its handling of complaints.

One former Office of Access and Equity (OAE) Investigator, a non-party witness in the lawsuit, testified that she “was working in a hostile work environment,” describing the reasons that she left her employment at OAE (formerly ODEA), the office charged with investigating complaints of harassment and discrimination at the Urbana-Champaign campus. Referring to Director of OAE, Heidi Johnson, the witness testified, “It was my perception and I believe the perception — because it was told to me by other colleagues, that Heidi favored our white colleagues.”

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The witness testified that she did not think Director Johnson treated employees of color in OAE equitably, describing Johnson’s indifference on issues concerning diversity and inclusion and personnel actions driven by bias, including stripping away the title of the witness, a person of color, without a stated basis, favoring White employees with less experience for promotions, and issuing the witness with a baseless disciplinary action. This treatment ultimately drove the witness to leave the University of Illinois after working many years as an OAE investigator.

Friedman & Houlding LLP represents 21 African-American Plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Newport News Industrials, a subsidiary of Huntington Ingalls, which builds our Carriers and Subs. Some of our clients are veterans.

Plaintiffs are committed to obtaining justice in their long-running lawsuit alleging a racially hostile work environment. Evidence includes nooses at their workstations when they came to work, racist symbols and graffiti displayed openly throughout their workplace, including on t-shirts, headbands, tattoos, toolboxes and in bathrooms, and racial slurs. Plaintiffs testified that they were menaced with nooses, including by a supervisor, were addressed as “boy,” referred to as “n*gger” and were shown a video of white people dancing to Johnny Rebel singing “N*gger Hatin’ Me,” among other racist behavior. And many allege they were treated differently than their white peers when it came to being monitored.  A summary of the conduct the district court found supported Plaintiffs’ right to a jury trial can be found here.

This racism was supported in part with taxpayer dollars.

Employers are obligated to act promptly when they learn about ongoing workplace sexual or racial harassment. When employers ignore workplace harassment, the public will find out. Media coverage is an important tool for exposing and fighting workplace racism and sexism.

Media attention typically motivates employers to act quickly to remedy racial harassment to show the public that they take these issues seriously. An employer that acts promptly to correct the situation, in the face of this negative media attention, has an opportunity to foster a culture of tolerance, and potentially, to avoid liability for the harassment. However, when employers have knowledge of harassment and fail to act in the face of media coverage, their lack of concern for the victims of the harassment will be showcased for the public.
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Friedman & Houlding LLP has a multi-disciplinary approach to civil rights advocacy. We believe civil rights have never been won solely or even primarily in court. Public struggle is protected activity under civil rights statutes and the First Amendment, and the press coverage of employer discrimination may serve as the modern-day equivalent of the sit-in or other demonstration.NY-Post-7-15-13-McQueen-Ibela-thumb-467x348-68931-1-300x224

Employers often view the threat of a jury verdict, or the cost of a settlement, as a cost of doing business (often covered by insurance), and fail to correct the problem that caused the lawsuit. That is why our firm always issues a press release when we file a case, which usually results in newspaper and/or television coverage.

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My town has wonderful open-minded people and great schools. It’s, a lovely community. So, the fact that young, African-American woman, had to bring a lawsuit against a local restaurant for employment discrimination, tells you that racial discrimination can rear its ugly head anywhere.

Abby, who is African-American, and Becca, who is white, are friends. This took place when they were seniors in high school. Becca was leaving her position at the Japanese restaurant where she worked as the Greeter. She had promised her manager she would bring someone in to replace her. When she introduced Abby to her manager, he said he could not use her because she was black. Abby filed suit for race discrimination, represented by Friedman & Houlding LLP.

17-small-page-1-thumb-525x726-55068-e1473176193892Page-2-thumb-149x202-27289At the same time she filed suit, the she organized a protest in front of the restaurant, which was reported in the press. Some of the signs carried by the protesters called for a boycott.

A civil rights lawsuit has received some assistance from the federal government. The United States Department of Justice has filed an amicus brief in a lawsuit brought by racial discrimination attorney Joshua Friedman on behalf of a group of Michigan high school students.

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We discussed a peer racial harassment case that we were taking to trial in late 2009. The case was against the Lenape Valley Regional Board of Education in Sussex County, New Jersey. It involved a multi-racial teen named “E.L.” who was subjected to racial slurs during his 13 months at Lenape Valley Regional High School. E.L.’s parents, Edward and Leeann Lee, claimed that even after the harassment was reported, the school did almost nothing to discipline the harassers or prevent future harassment. After E.L. was expelled from school for fighting with one harasser, his parents sued the school board for money damages, a finding that E.L. was expelled without due process, and a finding that the school board failed to remedy the racial harassment.

Since that time, the plaintiffs and defendants have reached a settlement.

Prior to the settlement, the defendants tried to have the case dismissed through a motion for summary judgment, however, the Court rejected their arguments, and ordered the case to trial.

We are in the final days before our pretrial conference in this peer racial harassment case heading to trial in Newark, New Jersey. In this case, against the Lenape Valley Regional Board of Education, and Lenape Valley Regional High School Principal Douglas deMarrais, our clients Edward and Leeann Lee sued to recover damages to their then-teenage multi-racial son, who was harassed at school. They brought claims under federal and state laws prohibiting discrimination in school.

In the lawsuit, the defendants admitted much of the conduct the plaintiffs alleged in their Complaint. In fact, the principal admitted that E.L. (the student) was subjected to “an inordinate number of incidents [of racial slurs]” during his 13 months at Lenape Valley Regional High School, where he was one of only a small percentage of minority students. During discovery in this case, Mr. deMarrais admitted that between November 2004 and January 2006, Leeann and Edward Lee complained of racial slurs made to their son on multiple occasions, many of which the school confirmed. Defendants admitted the Lees complained that during his Freshman year (November 2004 thought June 2005) their son “E.L.” was called the “n” word on the school bus on at least three occasions by three different students, another racial slur by a student on the basketball team, and another racial slur by three girls; and between September 2005 and January 2006, their son was called “ghetto or gangster” by a student who had called him the “n” word the previous year, called the “n” word by a girl who had used the word towards their son the previous year, was told he would be “picking [the] cotton” of a Caucasian student, called the “n” word by that same student a week later, and called the “n” word by another student shortly after.
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