Egregious Discrimination Included Hangman's Noose and Racial Slurs At Workplace
MIAMI - The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) today announced a quarter-million-dollar settlement of a racial harassment lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 against Sun Ag, Inc., a major citrus grower based in Fellsmere, Fla. The suit charged the company with subjecting African-American employees to a racially hostile work environment over a number of years, which included threatening remarks, displaying of a hangman's noose, and racial slurs by supervisors and co-workers.
"This case exemplifies a growing and disturbing trend of racial harassment, where black workers face threats to their lives and emotional well being," said EEOC Chairwoman Ida L. Castro. "Employers are well advised to review their workplace policies and practices and train their workforce from top to bottom."
Ms. Castro added: "The Commission will vigorously prosecute employers who tolerate the intolerable through their indifference to racial slurs, the presence of hangman's nooses, or similar acts of harassment at the workplace. Such graphic displays of racial hatred and bigotry are meant to intimidate and threaten minority workers, which is unlawful and hideously immoral."
A Consent Decree settling the case was approved October 24, 2000, by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, Fort Pierce Division. The monetary benefits will be divided among Alvin Davis, who filed the initial charge with EEOC, and three other African- American workers who were discriminated against due to their race. In addition, the agreement requires Sun Ag to distribute a written anti-harassment policy to all employees, conduct extensive EEO and diversity training for all supervisors and workers, submit reports to the EEOC on subsequent bias complaints, provide a letter of reference to Mr. Davis, and post a notice on employee bulletin boards regarding the company's commitment to a discrimination-free workplace. EEOC will monitor compliance with the Consent Decree, which will remain in effect for three years.
According to the suit, filed on September 30, 1999, a hangman's noose was prominently displayed as early as 1992 in the company's stockroom, a busy area where it was clearly visible to workers and management. Despite its conspicuous location, the noose remained in place until being removed by Mr. Davis, who had been employed as a laborer and groundskeeper at Sun Ag since 1990. On one occasion, a co-worker told Mr. Davis that the noose was used to hang black people and that he was going to take down the noose and hang him personally.
In addition to the hangman's noose, Mr. Davis was subjected to racial slurs and intimidation, which included being called "nigger." Another African-American worker was derisively called "boy" on a regular basis by management and co-workers.
"The settlement is significant not only for the monetary relief obtained for the victims, but also for the extensive training of Sun Ag's workforce and policy changes that will take place as a result of EEOC's action,"said Delner Franklin-Thomas, Regional Attorney of the agency's Miami District Office. "This case is among several racial harassment suits involving nooses in the workplace which have been filed by EEOC against Florida employers in the past two years."
Federico Costales, Director of EEOC's Miami office said, "Subjecting workers to harassment because of their race can be costly to businesses, not only in monetary terms, but also in terms of increased absenteeism and health care costs, and lower productivity and employee morale. It is imperative for employers to implement effective anti-discrimination policies and procedures to prevent discrimination and to address and remedy it when it occurs."
Charges of racial harassment filed with EEOC have more than doubled over the past decade from 2,849 charge filings in Fiscal Year 1991 to approximately 6,550 charge filings in FY 2000, about 8% of all charges filed with the agency. Racial harassment is a form of race discrimination which includes racial jokes, ethnic slurs, offensive or derogatory comments, or other verbal or physical conduct based on an individual's race or color. Such conduct may create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment, or interferes with the individual's work performance, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 .
In addition to enforcing Title VII, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin, EEOC enforces the Age Discrimination in Employment Act; the Equal Pay Act; Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits employment discrimination against people with disabilities in the private sector and state and local governments; prohibitions against discrimination affecting individuals with disabilities in the federal government; and sections of the Civil Rights Act of 1991. Further information about the Commission is available on the agency's Web site at www.eeoc.gov.
This page was last modified on October 30, 2000.
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