Threats of Racial Violence Must Never Be Tolerated

Our firm represents an African-American man in North Dakota, who recently filed Charges of Discrimination with a federal agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In his first Charge he alleges racial harassment and retaliation against his former employer, Ironworks Welding, after two workers re-enacted “mock” lynchings; in his second Charge, he alleges he was fired one week after  his employer received his first EEOC Charge, in retaliation for standing up to racial harassment.

In April 2022, our Client began work at Ironworks Welding, Inc. as a “single hand” in the Piping Prefab shop, in Dickinson, North Dakota. He was at the time the only African-American worker.

Beginning when he was hired, our Client believed he was being treated with suspicion, so much so that he ultimately told his Safety Manager he felt targeted due to his race, and not trusted. Nevertheless, he liked his job and wanted to succeed and help the Company.

And he did succeed: he was awarded four raises totaling $7/hour during his 18 months, including after he took it upon himself to train himself to run two machines simultaneously, increasing production significantly without the Company having to hire a second person to do the work.

One day in early May 2023, our Client noticed some pipes with flanges were on the ground for some time. Our Client asked his foreman if the Foreman had put the pipes there or what the Foreman wanted to be done with them. As the Foreman walked away, our Client alleges in the EEOC Charge that the Foreman muttered “Stupid ass n*gger”. Our Client was speechless, but he needed to keep his job, so he stayed quiet.   

On August 31, 2023, our Client’s Foreman – the same one he alleges in the Charge had used the racial slur towards him – was speaking with the Construction Manager, as well as with our Client. As recounted in his EEOC Charge, his Foreman took a chain that was attached to a crane, put a portion around his own neck and jerked it as if reenacting a lynching. Our Client was shocked, and could only watch in horror. His Manager did not say anything to the Foreman, to chastise him or indicate there was anything wrong with his actions. Instead, our Client’s Charge states that he made it worse by laughing.

On or about September 15, 2023, our Client reported to his Manager that he should review security footage from August 31, even telling him the time and location. He was uncomfortable complaining specifically about what happened and fearful of retaliation but he hoped that if the Manager saw for himself what had happened, he would have to take action.

Two days later, on September 17, 2023, our Client sought out one of the Owners of the company to deliver a letter repeating his request that the Company review the video footage, and then was forced to explain in detail the mock lynching.

As his EEOC Charge states, on September 19, 2023, his Manager told him that the security video is over-written every five days but that, we “kind of have a witness”, and admitted that he knew the Foreman “made an inappropriate comment or did something inappropriate, and he’ll be fired if he does it again.”

But our Client’s fears of retaliation were justified, as it began immediately: his Foreman told our Client, “you’re not allowed to talk to me”. When our Client followed-up with the Manager, rather than instruct the Foreman to simply do his job and speak with our Client (and allow our Client to speak to him), the Manager merely stated, “just come to me or [another supervisor] about work/assignments.” This made our Client’s job more difficult because had to go to a different building to find a manager or text back and forth to get instructions, or find papers his Foreman would leave in random areas, with instructions.

 Just a week after formally reporting the lynching incident, as he alleges in his Charge, another coworker – shockingly – mimed a noose gesture with his hand in the air, yanking his own arm as if to show a noose being pulled. Our Client felt strongly that his Employer was hoping he would quit, or react in a way that would get him fired. He did neither.

The Company’s harassment and retaliation continued as alleged in his Charge. Although in approximately 18 months of employment our Client had never been written up for anything, a number of disciplinary actions “suddenly” happened in short succession: for instance, on October 11, 2023, he was told that an employee submitted an “observation”, (falsely) claiming our Client was not handling heavy equipment appropriately, preventing our Client from using heavy equipment until he could be recertified; his Supervisor told him for the first time he had to keep count and advise his supervisor of every flange he used, thereby increasing his workload; a Company Owner appeared to follow him towards his home at lunch one day, prompting our Client to make a police report just in case something happened to him – as a Black man in a predominantly white area, who had made a report of racial harassment involving a noose/lynching to his employer, he felt vulnerable; the following day, that Owner yelled at only him – out of approximately 10 others – about leaving a door open, something that was not his responsibility; his Foreman – who did not otherwise speak to him – began screaming at him: “I run this shop not you,” and “if I were you, I wouldn’t say anything;” his Supervisors made him alone carry 125 flanges by hand, two at a time on a cold and rainy day, refusing to help and watching and laughing; his Supervisor gave him a verbal warning for clocking in at 6:06 a.m., on the first snowy day of the season, when employees are not considered late until they are more than 8 minutes past the start time; the Company wrote him up for leaving a beveling tool in the flanging machine, something he had done in the past before he engaged in protected activity but for which he had never been written up; all occurring amid other retaliatory and hostile behavior that was meant to and did intimidate our Client, to the point that he had to go to a walk-in clinic on December 13, 2023 for stroke-level blood pressure/dizziness one day. He told his bosses what happened, including texting a picture of his high blood pressure  (170/106), and that he would need to stay home the following day.

When he came back to work, the hostility continued, with the Company taking actions that appeared geared toward increasing our Client’s blood pressure yet again.

Just a few days later, on December 19, 2023, our Client filed his first Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC.

The EEOC served the Charge on the Company the following day, December 20, 2023.

Our Client’s supervisor began badgering him to immediately provide that day’s flange count, trying to provoke a reaction from him. To our Client, it appeared the Supervisor was pushing to agitate our Client, get him to quit, or get him to react in such a way that the Company could fire him. It did not work – our Client calmly counted flanges, the Supervisor walked away, and our Client texted the count soon after. The following morning, the Supervisor tried again: during the Safety Meeting at 6 a.m., our Client’s Supervisor began demanding the flange count. Understandably upset but without being threatening or aggressive, our Client stated, “Man, you’re stressing me out by the way you keep asking me about the flange count that you’ve seen with your own eyes, that I keep track of and send to you daily.” His Foreman, who was nearby, and who as described in his EEOC Charge had previously called our Client a “stupid ass n***er” and who had engaged in the “mock lynching”, began screaming at our Client, “You’re stressing US out” –  clearly a reference to the legally-protected complaints of racial harassment our Client had rightfully made. Although the Supervisor told our Client he could go home if he wanted, he chose to keep working.

After our Client worked without incident for the rest of the day, our Client’s Supervisor and Manager told him there would be an investigation. A week later, when he returned to work after the Christmas holiday, and only a week after the Company received our Client’s Charge of Discrimination, the Company fired our Client – something that he alleges in a new Charge was clearly in retaliation for his legally-protected conduct of complaining of racial harassment. Our Client went from being a respected member of his Company who worked hard, received multiple raises, and had never been disciplined, to someone who was written up, berated and fired after he complained about racial harassment.

As he alleges in his first Charge, and the supplemental Charge filed after the Company fired him, the Company’s actions violated the law and caused our Client emotional and physical distress and economic harm. A threat of lynching is the most serious threatening act of racial violence. Putting up with threats of racial violence is not a legal condition of employment in America in the 21st Century. Our Client is hopeful that his children grow up in a world where such threats are completely unacceptable.





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