The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

PRESS RELEASE
9-9-09

YATES CONSTRUCTION COMPANY SUED BY EEOC FOR RACIAL HARASSMENT AND RETALIATION

Black Employees Subjected to Racial Insults, Federal Agency Charges

GREENSBORO, N.C. – Stokesdale, N.C.-based Yates Construction Company, Inc. violated federal law by subjecting African American employees to a racially hostile environment and by firing one of its African-American employees for complaining about the situation, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed today.

According to the EEOC’s complaint, in 2007 and 2008 Rodney McCants was subjected to unwelcome derogatory racial remarks and comments by his supervisors and a co-worker at the company’s various worksites in North Carolina. The EEOC contends that McCants’ supervisors and the co-worker repeatedly used racial slurs such as “n-----r”, frequently accompanied by other epithets, in referring to McCants and other black employees. McCants was also subjected to racial jokes about African Americans.

The EEOC said McCants complained about the harassment on at least two occasions in around November 2007 to the company owner, his superintendent and project manager, and again around April 2008 to the company vice president. However, the EEOC said, Yates Construction failed to stop the harassment and terminated McCants in April 2008 in retaliation for his complaints.

Additionally, the EEOC charges that other similarly situated African American employees were subjected to a racially hostile work environment at Yates Construction’s work sites beginning at least in 2007. The complaint alleges that other black workers were subjected to racial slurs and comments on a daily or almost daily basis.

Racial harassment and retaliation violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina against Yates Construction (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Yates Construction Company, Inc., Civil Action No. 1:09-cv-00687), after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement. The agency seeks back pay, along with compensatory and punitive damages for McCants. Additionally, the agency seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as injunctive relief, for all aggrieved employees.

Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney of the agency’s Charlotte District Office, said, “These employees were constantly insulted in front of their non-African American counterparts and subjected to racial slurs on a daily or almost daily basis. This type of egregious behavior should not be tolerated by any employer and serves a painful reminder that severe racist behavior still exists in today's workplace. It is the EEOC’s mission to eliminate discrimination in the workplace, and we will vigorously prosecute cases like this.”

Tina Burnside, supervisory trial attorney in the Charlotte District Office, added, “Employees have a right to work in an environment free of racial harassment, and employers have a duty under federal law to address complaints of racial harassment. Employers cannot simply ignore racial harassment complaints and then retaliate against an employee who complains about unlawful conduct.”

Yates Construction specializes in projects such as highway construction, utility construction and site preparation, and it employs approximately 180 people.

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.


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