EEOC Settles Suit Involving Hangman’s Nooses, KKK Graffiti and Slurs at Construction Site
PHILADELPHIA — The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) today announced a major settlement of a racial harassment lawsuit for $1,650,000 and significant remedial relief against Conectiv, A.C. Dellovade, Inc., Steel Suppliers Erectors, Inc. and Matrix Services Industrial Contractors (doing business as Bogan, Inc. /Hake Group) on behalf of African American employees who were subjected to egregious racial harassment at a construction site in Bethlehem, Pa.
Conectiv was the general contractor and property owner on a project to build a new energy power plant on the site of a defunct steel plant. Construction on the project began in January 2002 and the plant was operating by the end of October 2003. The EEOC charged in the lawsuit that the defendants, acting as joint employers, subjected a class of African American employees to racial slurs and graffiti as well as threats by hangman’s nooses.
The EEOC said that harassment included a life size noose made of heavy rope hung from a beam in a class member’s work area for at least 10 days before it was removed; the regular use of the “N-word”; racially offensive comments made to black individuals, including “I think everybody should own one”; “Black people are no good and you can’t trust them”; and “Black people can’t read or write.” Additionally, racist graffiti was present written in portable toilets, with terms such as “coon”; “If u not white u not right”; “White power”; “KKK”; and “I love the Ku Klux Klan.”
“It should be obvious to construction companies that employees in this industry have the same legal protections against discrimination as those who work in an office setting,” said EEOC Philadelphia District Director Marie M. Tomasso, who oversaw the agency’s administrative investigation which preceded the litigation. “Employers risk intervention by the EEOC when supervisors ignore racially offensive working conditions and fail to take prompt and effective remedial action to stop it.”
As part of the settlement by consent decrees, Conectiv will pay $750,000 to the four class members, Matrix Services Industrial Contractors (doing business as Bogan, Inc./Hake Group) will pay $450,000 to two class members, Steel Suppliers Erectors, Inc. will pay $250,000 to one class member, and A.C. Dellovade, Inc. will pay $200,000 to one class member. In addition to the monetary relief, the four-year decrees (EEOC v. Conectiv, et al, Civil Action No. 2:05-cv-03389), filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, includes: injunctive relief enjoining each defendant from engaging in racial harassment or retaliation; anti-discrimination training; the posting of a notice about the settlement; and reporting complaints of racial harassment to the EEOC for monitoring. Defendants did not admit liability in the consent decrees, which are pending judicial approval.
EEOC Regional Attorney Jacqueline McNair said, “The harassment in this case is shocking and unconscionable. The display of hangman’s nooses, which represent a threat to life and limb, is abhorrent and will not be tolerated by the EEOC. Employers must realize there will be a high price to pay for such egregious and unlawful conduct, regardless of the industry in which it occurs.”
Terrence R. Cook, the supervisory trial attorney responsible for handling the litigation, added, “The class members had the courage to come forward and complain, first to supervisors, who did not take action, and then to the EEOC, which did. We are pleased that the companies worked with us to resolve the case and that they are all taking the positive steps needed to ensure future work sites are free from racial harassment.”
Karen McDonough investigated the charges of discrimination filed with the agency.
Racial harassment cases at the EEOC have surged since the early 1990s from 3,075 in Fiscal Year 1991 to nearly 7,000 in FY 2007. In addition to investigating and voluntarily resolving tens of thousands of race discrimination cases out of court, the EEOC has sued more than three dozen employers this decade in racial harassment cases involving nooses.
On Feb. 28, 2007, EEOC Chair Naomi C. 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 http://www.eeoc.gov/initiatives/e-race/index.html.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available at its website at www.eeoc.gov.