The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission



Lawsuit Charged Commercial Coating Service with Severe Racial Harassment

HOUSTON – The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) today announced the settlement of a racial harassment lawsuit against Commercial Coating Service, Inc. for more than $1 million on behalf of a black employee who was subjected to a barrage of racial epithets, culminating in an incident where white co-workers placed a noose around his neck in the company bathroom and choked him in October 2002. 

In its lawsuit, filed in 2003 (EEOC et al. v. Commercial Coating Service, Inc., civil action no. H-03-3984), the EEOC asserted that Commercial Coating did not stop its employees, including managers, from harassing charging party Charles Hickman on the basis of his race (black) and subjecting him to a racially hostile work environment – including verbal and physical abuse.  The company, located in Conroe, Texas, specializes in internal and external application of various coating bends, fittings, fabricated spools, valves, and short runs of straight pipe.

“It is shocking that such egregious racial harassment still occurs in the 21st century workplace, more than 40 years after passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act,” said EEOC’s Houston District Director Jeanette Leino.

 The suit was filed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division, after the EEOC first attempted to reach a voluntary pre-litigation settlement.  In addition to the monetary relief for Mr. Hickman, who worked as a sandblaster, the company agreed to enter into a consent decree that will overhaul its employment practices to improve the corporate culture and further equal employment opportunities. The consent decree will be overseen by U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison, who signed it yesterday.

EEOC’s Houston Regional Attorney, Jim Sacher, noted: “In addition to being choked with a hangman’s noose, Mr. Hickman was called the N-word and a monkey.  The facts showed that the company was aware of the unlawful conduct and did not stop it, which only caused a bad situation to get much worse.”

Rudy L. Sustaita, the lead attorney for the EEOC in the case, said: “We are pleased with the resolution and look forward to working with the company to make sure this kind of malicious conduct never occurs again.  Settling the case saves judicial resources and removes uncertainty for Mr. Hickman, but despite the large monetary settlement, we feel no amount of money satisfactorily compensates him for such appalling discrimination.  We call on all employers to be vigilant in rooting out race discrimination from the workplace.”

The EEOC is the federal government agency responsible for enforcing the nation's anti-discrimination laws in the workplace.  Further information about the Commission is available on the agency’s web site at

This page was last modified on March 21, 2006.

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