Articles Posted in Racial Harassment Cases

University Systematically Whitewashed Valid Harassment Complaints by Black Employees

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign employees Derick Brown, Atiba Flemons, and Jeffrey Taylor are suing the University for racial discrimination and racial harassment. Central District of Illinois, 2:19-cv-02020. They have filed a motion to certify a class of thousands of Black employees seeking a Court Order ending illegal racial harassment. The motion shows, based on records produced by the University, that over the class period of six years the University has corroborated exactly zero complaints of discrimination against Black employees.

Mr. Brown, a machinist at the University’s Facilities & Services department, whose initial complaint in 2017 concerned a coworker’s donning a KKK-style hood while other coworkers, including Mr. Brown’s supervisor, looked on and laughed, testified to the University’s indifference: “How can you not say that’s racial when the KKK hood over a guy’s face that are all white? And that’s not racial to a black man? And they find it not racial?

Friedman & Houlding LLP represents Weldon Moore, an African American truck driver who worked at EXCEL USA in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. As alleged in the Amended Complaint the Superintendent of EXCEL’s operations at Louisiana Pigment plant in Lake Charles racially harassed Mr. Moore, often calling him and other African American employees “Black motherf*****”, telling Mr. Moore that he wished he could call his African American coworker the “N” word, and repeating a disgusting “joke”: “Mo, if a Black man and a Mexican man fell off a high-rise building, who do you think would hit the ground first?” When Mr. Moore (known as “Mo”), replied out of shock, “I don’t know, boss,” the Superintendent laughed and said, “Who gives a f***?

As alleged in the Amended Complaint Mr. Moore complained first to Human Resources, in the presence of the EXCEL Louisiana Pigment plant project manager. The Human Resources representative said that she would keep his complaint on file. But neither Human Resources nor the EXCEL project manager engaged in any follow-up inquiries. The racial harassment not only continued, but Mr. Moore’s complaint to HR also resulted in retaliation from the Superintendent. He cut Moore’s  days. When Mr. Moore spoke up about these changes to his boss, his boss simply replied, “You Black motherf*****, if you don’t like it, then drag the f*** up,” which Mr. Moore understood to mean “quit.”

 In his next complaint Human Resources forced Mr. Moore to explain the racial harassment in the presence of his harasser, the Superintendent. The Superintendent stood up and screamed at Mr. Moore, “you mother*****” and stormed out of the meeting. Incredibly, he kept his job. When Mr. Moore returned to his work station, a member of management pulled up in his truck, handed him his business card, stating, “I don’t ever want you to let him or anyone else talk to you that way. If he does that again, call me.”

Marcus Staples worked for Advanced Technology Recycling, an electronics de-manufacturing company headquartered in Pontiac, Illinois, with seven locations across the country. In Staples’ Complaint filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, he alleges that whenever the company’s project manager was on site, he referred to Staples and Staples’ African-American coworkers as “boy”—while referring to white co-coworkers by their given names. One of Staples’ coworkers has stated under oath that he “was so upset” by the manager’s “offensive racism, I frequently complained to [our supervisor] about it myself. During 2019, I complained to [her] about [the] behavior on approximately a weekly basis, either on my own or with co-workers. She said she would take care of it, but nothing changed to remedy the situation.” 

 The conduct escalated: Staples alleges that the manager derisively compared him to a monkey, and when Staples was offended and upset, the next day the manager handed him a baggie of fried chicken in front of multiple coworkers as a mocking “apology.”  

 Staples alleges in his Complaint, and multiple co-workers confirm under oath, that when the manager returned to the worksite after these incidents, he resumed calling Staples and his African-American coworkers “boy” —  the same as before. Staples alleges that the company went on to retaliate against him for filing an EEOC charge, baselessly disciplining him. When he refused to work through the EEOC to try to settle the charge [which indicated that Staples planned to sue], Staples alleges ATR fired him. 

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 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.

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