Trucking Company to Pay $243,000 for Subjecting African-American Employees to Racial Slurs and Nooses, Retaliation
WINSTON SALEM, N.C. - Following on the heels of a legal victory for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a North Carolina federal court has awarded more than $243,000 and injunctive relief against A.C. Widenhouse, Inc., a Concord, N.C.-based trucking company, in a race harassment and retaliation case, the agency announced today.
According to the EEOC's lawsuit, Contonius Gill and Robert Floyd, Jr., African-Americans, worked as truck drivers for A.C. Widenhouse. From as early as May 2007 through at least June 2008, Gill was repeatedly subjected to unwelcome derogatory racial comments and slurs by the facility's general manager, (who was also his supervisor), the company's dispatcher, several mechanics and other truck drivers, all of whom are white. The comments and slurs included the "N" word, "monkey" and "boy." Gill testified that on one occasion he was approached by a co-worker with a noose and was told, "This is for you. Do you want to hang from the family tree?" Gill further testified that he was asked by white employees if he wanted to be the "coon" in their "coon hunt."
Floyd testified that he also was subjected to repeated derogatory racial comments and slurs by the company's general manager and white employees. Floyd testified that when was hired in 2005, he was the only African-American working at the company. According to Floyd, the company's general manager told Floyd that he was the company's "token black." Floyd testified that on another occasion the general manager told Floyd, "Don't find a noose with your name on it" and talked about having some of his "friends" visit Floyd in the middle of the night. Gill repeatedly complained about racial harassment to the company's dispatcher and general manager and Floyd complained to an owner of A.C. Widenhouse, but both men testified that the harassment continued.
Gill intervened in the lawsuit and in addition to the EEOC's claim of racial harassment, Gill alleged that his employment with A.C. Widenhouse was terminated based on his race and in retaliation for complaining about racial harassment. The jury also returned a verdict in favor of Gill on both of his discriminatory discharge claims.
Race discrimination, including racial harassment, and retaliation for complaining about it violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. A.C. Widenhouse, Inc., 1:11-cv-00498) in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina after first attempting to reach voluntary settlement.
On Jan. 28, a Winston-Salem jury of eight returned a unanimous verdict finding that Gill and Floyd, Jr. had been harassed because of their race, and that Gill had been fired because of his race and in retaliation for complaining about racial harassment.
In a judgment and injunction entered by the court on Feb. 22, the court ruled that the EEOC should recover $50,000 in compensatory and punitive damages on behalf of Floyd, and that Gill should recover $193,509 in compensatory and punitive damages, back pay, and pre-judgment interest. The court further enjoined A.C. Widenhouse from discriminating against any person on the basis of race or in retaliation for opposing practices unlawful under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The three-year injunction also requires A.C. Widenhouse to implement a written anti-discrimination policy; conduct training on Title VII to all employees and to all owners involved in the company's operations; post the anti-discrimination policy and a notice to employees regarding the lawsuit; and provide the EEOC with periodic reports regarding complaints about racial harassment.
"We are glad that the court saw fit to enter an injunction in this case," said Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for the EEOC's Charlotte District Office. "Among other things, the injunction mandates training for Widenhouse employees and owners involved in the company's operations. Education is the first step toward preventing racial harassment."
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.