Meeting of 6-20-16 Public Meeting on Proposed Reboot of Harassment Prevention Efforts
I would like to thank the Commission for inviting me here today. My name is Contonius Gill and I filed a charge of discrimination against my former employer, A.C. Widenhouse, for race harassment I suffered while working there. What happened to me is ugly and straightforward.
A.C. Widenhouse is a freight trucking company headquartered in Concord, North Carolina. I worked for A.C. Widenhouse as a tanker / truck driver hauling extremely hot, molten asphalt of approximately 360 degrees, from May 7, 2007 until June 9, 2008. Right from the beginning, I was subjected to racially derogatory comments. On my first day of employment, a mechanic, who is white, approached me, and asked me if I would like to hang from their family tree. While the question was asked, another co-worker motioned for me to look to the ceiling rafters and a noose was hanging there. I was shocked and felt threatened. I spoke to the dispatcher about it as well as the general manager. I never heard from anybody about it. I wish I could say this was the first and last time I saw a noose, but it was not. I saw nooses on a few more occasions, one of which was in the back of the managers Ford F-150.
This same mechanic made other racial comments that were offensive. He used the word "Tyrone" frequently and also referred to me and two other Afro-American co-workers as "coons." I should mention that the majority of my co-workers were older white males who also used the name "Tyrone" as a substitute for using the word "nigger."
The general manager also used the word "nigger" hundreds of times a week. I asked him to stop using the term but he did not. The general manager and co-workers also engaged in using the name "Tyrone" to refer to African-American men and the terms "coon" and "lawn jockey." A lawn jockey is a lawn ornament of a dark-skinned man that some people used to have in their yards. The general manager also told me that if his daughter ever brought a black man home that he would kill them both. On another occasion, he told me that I needed to be "stump-broken." I later found out that it is when a white man stands on the stump of a tree and would train a horse or other four-legged animal to back up to the stump while the man sodomized the animal as a depraved form of training it.
Several drivers also made racial comments that were offensive. They would use the words "nigger" and " monkey" a lot and they used these words over the CB radio when they were talking with each other and could be heard by anyone on the CB, as they blamed and complained about African-Americans.
I complained to the general manager many times and nothing was done. As far as I knew, A.C. Widenhouse did not have a harassment policy and I never received any information from them on my rights or how to complain.
This treatment at work left me depressed. I felt isolated, demeaned and dehumanized. I began having difficulty sleeping and I was filled with anxiety. I had never before encountered a work environment like the one at A.C. Widenhouse.
I filed my complaint with EEOC on August 19, 2008. EEOC took my case to court. The jury took less than one hour to deliberate and was unanimous in finding that I had been discriminated against based on my race.
I was vindicated in a court of law, but this was not an easy road to walk. I learned that when you speak up about racial discrimination at work, people distance themselves from you and some even vilify you, as Widenhouse did to me on television with the press and news media. So, you need to have a lot of inner strength, because on this path, you will walk alone.
Thank you for letting me come to Washington. DC or share my story with you. I hope that my story helps others who have been racially harassed at work find the inner strength to step forward and complain.