Class of Black Employees Suffered Hangman's Nooses, Racist Graffiti and Epithets, Harsher Discipline, and Tougher Work Assignments, Federal Agency Charged
CHICAGO - An $11 million consent decree entered here today in federal court has ended the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) race harassment and discrimination lawsuit against a major transportation company. Magistrate Judge Susan E. Cox granted preliminary approval of the decree.
In its suit, the EEOC charged that Yellow Transportation, Inc. and YRC, Inc. subjected African-American employees at its Chicago Ridge, Ill., facility to a racially hostile working environment and discriminatory terms and conditions of employment. Yellow Transportation operated the facility until its merger with Roadway Express, when the two companies combined operations to form YRC Inc. in October 2008.
Had the case gone to trial, the EEOC was prepared to present evidence that black employees were subjected to multiple incidents of hangman's nooses and racist graffiti, comments and cartoons. The EEOC was also would have presented evidence that Yellow and YRC subjected black employees to harsher discipline and scrutiny than their white counterparts and gave them more difficult and time-consuming work assignments. This would include expert testimony that these practices resulted in statistically significant differences in the way blacks and whites were treated. Numerous black employees, according to the EEOC, had complained about all of these conditions over the years, but the company continually failed to take effective action to correct the problems.
Under the consent decree settling the suit, signed by Magistrate Judge Susan E. Cox, $11 million will be paid to the discrimination victims. The Chicago Ridge facility closed in 2009, however, many African-American employees from Chicago Ridge continue to work at YRC's Chicago Heights facility. The Chicago Heights facility was itself the subject of a separate lawsuit by the EEOC against YRC with similar allegations, resulting in a $10 million settlement in 2010. That first consent decree (Chicago Heights) will also protect the victims of the second lawsuit at Chicago Ridge.
The Chicago Heights decree enjoins YRC from engaging in any further discrimination because of race and from retaliating against people who complain about racial bias. The decree also requires YRC to retain consultants to examine the company's discipline and work assignment procedures and recommend changes to prevent racial disparities. Activities at Chicago Heights are being reviewed by a monitor who oversees the company's response to complaints and who reports semi-annually to the court and to the EEOC on the company's compliance with the decree.
Prior to filing suit in federal court, the EEOC conducted an administrative investigation and attempted to resolve the matter under its statutory conciliation procedures, both under the direction of John P. Rowe, director of the agency's Chicago District.
The decree entered today will benefit as many as 324 African-American employees who worked at the Chicago Ridge facility on the dock and in the yard as dockworkers, hostlers, janitors, clericals and supervisors from 2004 to the closing of the facility in September 2009. Eligible claimants will be invited to participate in a claims process over the coming months.
"We are approaching the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964," said EEOC General Counsel David Lopez. "This case, with evidence of hangman's nooses, vile racist graffiti, and race-based work assignments, proves that even after these many years, there is work to be done to eradicate pernicious racial hatred and discrimination. We have successfully prosecuted several racial harassment cases and will continue to do so until this toxic workplace behavior is eradicated. We have come a long way. We hope today's decree moves us all further along the road we must travel as a nation - together."
"This case is the second large race case the Chicago office has resolved with YRC in recent years. The company has now had to pay out $21 million to resolve egregious racial harassment and discrimination at two of its facilities," Chicago Regional Attorney John Hendrickson said. "Employers should not believe that, because they are in an industry - like trucking - that is known for rough working conditions, they can ignore discrimination when it arises. A noose is not an acceptable symbol there or anywhere else - that's the law."
Hendrickson also pointed out that the EEOC is also in the midst of another large race discrimination case against the international shipping giant DHL.
EEOC Supervisory Trial Attorney Gregory Gochanour noted, "It's an unhappy irony that in this case, where black employees were sometimes called 'lazy n----r,' our statistical analysis showed that on average black employees were given more difficult and time consuming work. This is a case of injury being added to insult."
The consent decree resolves two lawsuits that were consolidated for purposes of the settlement. A group of 14 employees initially filed a class action suit under Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act in October 2008 (Brown, et al. v. Yellow Transportation, Inc. No. 08 CV 5908). The EEOC then filed suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits race discrimination (EEOC v. Yellow Transportation, Inc. and YRC, INC. No. 09 CV 7693). The plaintiffs in the Brown litigation are represented by Schmidt of the Edwin F. Mandel Legal Aid Clinic of the University of Chicago Law School, as well as private counsel Carol Coplan Babbitt and Catherine Caporusso.
Hendrickson noted that this case is further indication that the EEOC has the resources and determination necessary to litigate large class actions under the Commission's systemic litigation initiative to successful resolution.
YRC, Inc., a Fortune 500 company, is now the nation's largest less-than-truckload freight hauling company and is headquartered in Overland Park, Kan. (www.yrc.com).
The EEOC Chicago District Office is responsible for processing charges of discrimination, administrative enforcement, and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and North and South Dakota, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information
about the Commission is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.