Company Defended Racial Slurs in the Workplace as 'Locker Room Talk,' Federal Agency Charged
CHICAGO, Ill. - Battaglia Distributing Co., Inc., a Chicago wholesale food distributor located at 2500 South Ashland Avenue, permitted a hostile work environment where use of racial slurs was common, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed today. According to the EEOC, slurs were used by both black and white supervisors to scold black employees. In addition, frequent, offensive racial banter among hourly workers was routinely tolerated by management.
Racial slurs and offensive remarks about a person's race or color can create a hostile work environment, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC brought suit based on discrimination charges filed by two African-American employees and seeks relief for them and for all of the other black employees who were offended by the slurs. The suit was filed after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through the agency's conciliation process. The agency seeks, among other relief, an order barring future discrimination and compensatory and punitive damages for the affected employees. The suit, captioned EEOC v. Battaglia Distributing Co, Inc., No. 13-cv-05789, was filed on August 14, 2013 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and was assigned to District Judge Robert W. Gettleman.
According to Jack Rowe, director of the EEOC's Chicago District Office, the agency's investigation discovered that despite repeated complaints, supervisors not only let the use of offensive racial terms go undisciplined, they used them regularly themselves and described the use as locker room talk.
"Individuals with authority in a workplace have to realize that so-called jokes between some co-workers can make a demeaning and hostile environment for others," Rowe said. "And when complaints that supervisors use racial slurs go ignored, that is unacceptable."
EEOC Chicago Regional Attorney John C. Hendrickson added, "Any attempt to argue that the alleged racial slurs at issue are merely locker room talk will not wash. Patently offensive, racist speech on the job - whether in the executive suite, on the loading dock, or in the locker room - damages working conditions and violates federal law."
Ethan Cohen, the EEOC trial attorney who will head up the EEOC litigation team with Gregory Gochanour, added, "However acceptable racist speech may once have been, it is not now. When a historically offensive and degrading term is used in the workplace, it's bad enough. If that behavior happens repeatedly, and in spite of complaints from offended employees, that is harassment, even when those using the word are of the same race as the offended employee."
According to the company's listing on insideview.com, Battaglia Distributing Co, Inc. has distributed cheese and meat to pizza parlors and Italian restaurants since 1966. The company claims on the site to have 150 employees and revenue of $171 million.
The EEOC's Chicago District Office is responsible for processing charges of discrimination, administrative enforcement and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis. The case will be litigated by attorneys in the Chicago District Area Office.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting discrimination in employment. Further information about the Commission is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.