Federal Agency Cleared to Go Forward to Trial on Racial Harassment and Wrongful Discharge Claims
CHICAGO – U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois has denied WRS Compass’s motion of summary judgment on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) racial harassment and discrimination claims for seven former African-American employees, the agency announced today. The court also denied summary judgment on the EEOC’s retaliation claim for a former white employee who complained of discrimination. The court granted summary judgment on the EEOC’s claims of associational harassment brought on behalf of four former white employees who associated with black employees. WRS had requested that the court dismiss the entire case. The case is set for a jury trial on May 15, 2012.
The EEOC alleges that WRS subjected black workers to a racially hostile work environment at a Lake Calumet environmental clean-up site in Chicago. The EEOC alleges that African-American employees were subjected to racially hostile symbols, such as hangman’s nooses and Confederate flags, and were also subjected to racially derogatory comments and intimidating behavior.
In its decision, the court found that “[e]ven though not all of the black plaintiffs saw the noose, a reasonable jury could conclude that it poisoned the workplace for all the black workers, not just . . . the black plaintiffs who saw it.” The court also noted that a noose “is a symbol not just of racial discrimination or of disapproval, but of terror. Those of us for whom a particular symbol is just that—a symbol—may have difficulty appreciating the very real, very significant fear that such symbols inspire in those to whom they are targeted. No less than the swastika or the Klansman’s hood, the noose . . . is intended to arouse fear.” The court further found that “[a] reasonable jury could conclude that WRS, by allowing its harassment policy to gather dust in a corporate office, instead of being distributed to employees, did not take reasonable care to prevent harassment.”
The EEOC also alleges that two of its claimants were discharged because of their race and for complaining about discrimination. The court denied summary judgment on these claims. For one claimant, the court noted that “One can reasonably infer pretext from an employer’s shifting or inconsistent explanations for the challenged employment decision.” For the other claimant, the court found that the supervisors’ “comment that he could get rid of ‘that f-----g n----r” is direct evidence, relatively rare from a decision maker in employment cases, that [the supervisor] fired [the claimant] because of his race.”
The decision denying summary judgment in EEOC v. WRS, Inc., (N.D. Ill. 09-cv-4272) was released by the court on Sept 27.
WRS Compass, headquartered in Tampa, Fla, is an environmental cleanup company that restores contaminated properties. According to its website, WRS has over 600 employees and 12 offices nationwide, including one in Chicago. The company’s website is
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on the agency’s web site at www.eeoc.gov.
The EEOC Chicago District Office is responsible for processing charges of discrimination, administrative enforcement, and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and North and South Dakota, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.