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EEOC Settles Class Suit for Black Employees at Racially Hostile Workplace

HIGH POINT, N.C. -- The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) today announced the settlement of a racial harassment lawsuit for $465,000 and significant remedial relief against Henredon Furniture Industries, Inc. on behalf of African American employees who were subjected to a persistent racially hostile work environment at a furniture plant.

According to the EEOC, from approximately 1998 through January 2006, African American employees at Henredon’s High Point manufacturing plant were subjected to racial slurs and name calling -- including the “N-word” -- as well as threats by hangman’s nooses that were displayed at the plant. The suit alleged that the harassment occurred almost daily. Henredon Furniture, a subsidiary of Furniture Brands International, operated a furniture plant in High Point, N.C., until January 2006. Furniture Brands International is America’s largest home furnishings manufacturer.

“This case is the latest indicator that racial harassment in general, and nooses in particular, remain persistent problems at some job sites nationwide,” said EEOC Chair Naomi C. Earp. “It’s time for corporate America to be more proactive in preventing and eliminating racist behavior in the workplace. The EEOC intends to make clear that race and color discrimination in the workplace, whether verbal or behavioral, is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”

In addition to the $465,000 in compensatory damages to be divided among the seven class members, the three year consent decree resolving the case (EEOC v. Henredon Furniture Industries Inc., Case No. 1:06CV00744, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina), includes injunctive relief enjoining Henredon Furniture from engaging in racial harassment or retaliation; requires anti-discrimination training; requires the posting of a notice about the settlement; and requires the company to report complaints of racial harassment to the EEOC for monitoring.

EEOC Charlotte District Director Reuben Daniels, Jr. said, “This settlement should remind employers of the potentially serious consequences of failing to take effective action to prevent and remedy racial harassment. It is in the best interest of all employers to create inclusive, discrimination-free work environments in accordance with the law.”

Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for the federal agency’s Charlotte District, which oversees North Carolina, Virginia, and most of South Carolina, added: “The EEOC is committed to the elimination of racial discrimination in the workplace as evidenced by the prosecution and resolution of this case, in addition to many others nationwide. We will not hesitate to take action against companies that allow employees of any race to be subjected to ongoing harassment.”

The Commission has observed a surge of racial harassment cases over the past two decades, some of which involve hangman’s nooses and verbal threats of lynching. Racial harassment charge filings with EEOC offices across the country have more than doubled from 3,075 in Fiscal Year 1991 to approximately 7,000 in FY 2007 (based on preliminary year-end data).

In addition to investigating and resolving charge filings brought to the EEOC, the agency has sued more than three dozen employers this decade in noose cases and reached several major settlements. In one recent case, the EEOC obtained more than $1 million for a black worker who was racially harassed and choked with a noose by his coworkers in a company bathroom.

On Feb. 28, 2007, Chair Earp launched the Commission’s E-RACE Initiative (Eradicating Racism And Colorism from Employment), a national outreach, education, and enforcement campaign focusing on new and emerging race and color issues in the 21st century workplace. Further information about the E-RACE Initiative is available on the EEOC’s web site at

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available at its website at