Black Dockworkers and Janitors at Trucking Giant Subjected to Nooses, Racist Graffiti, and Adverse Working Conditions, EEOC Alleged
CHICAGO – Federal Magistrate Judge Susan E. Cox has granted preliminary approval to a $10 million, five-year consent decree which will end the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) race harassment and discrimination lawsuit against Roadway Express and YRC, Inc. In addition to the multi-million-dollar monetary relief, the decree enjoins future discrimination at the facilities and requires the appointment of a monitor to oversee its implementation.
In its suit, the EEOC alleged that the company subjected black employees at its Chicago Heights, Ill., and Elk Grove Village, Ill., facilities to a racially hostile working environment and racial discrimination in terms and conditions of employment. Roadway Express operated the facilities until its merger with Yellow Transportation, when the two companies combined operations to form YRC, Inc., in October 2008. It is now the nation’s largest less-than-truckload freight hauling company.
“It is dispiriting that the severe racial stereotyping and harassment alleged in this case continues to be a problem,” said EEOC Chair Jacqueline A. Berrien. “This settlement embodies the agency’s 45-year struggle against this scourge on the American workplace.”
The EEOC was set to try this case before the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois on October 12, 2010. The EEOC was prepared to present evidence that black employees were subjected to multiple incidents of hangman’s nooses, racist graffiti and racist comments, and racist cartoons. The EEOC also planned to present evidence that Roadway and YRC subjected black employees to harsher discipline and scrutiny than their white counterparts and gave more difficult and time-consuming work assignments to black employees than white employees. According to the EEOC, black employees had complained about a these conditions over the years, but effective corrective action was not taken.
“No one should have to endure degrading racial harassment in order to earn a living,” said P. David Lopez, General Counsel of the EEOC. “The EEOC is committed to ensuring that all employees have the opportunity to put in an honest day’s work free from discrimination.” Lopez noted that this consent decree is the latest in a series of large race harassment suits that the agency has resolved recently, including suits against roofing contractor Elmer W. Davis ($1 million), home appliance manufacturer Whirlpool ($1 million), national grocery chain Albertson’s ($8.9 million), and the Bahama Breeze restaurant chain ($1.3 million).
In addition to the payment of the $10 million, the consent decree enjoins YRC from engaging in discrimination because of race and from retaliating against individuals who complain about racial discrimination; requires the development of revised anti-harassment policies; specific recordkeeping and reporting of complaints; and annual anti-harassment training. 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. Finally, the decree requires the appointment of a monitor to oversee the company’s response to complaints and to report on the company’s compliance with the decree. The monitor will report semi-annually to the court and to the EEOC.
The consent decree, which was preliminarily approved by Magistrate Judge Cox yesterday, covers over 300 African-American employees who worked at the Chicago Heights and Elk Grove Village facilities as dockworkers and janitors from March 2002 to the present. Eligible claimants will be invited to participate in a claims process over the coming months. At the conclusion of the claims process, the decree and distribution schedule will be submitted to Magistrate Judge Cox for final approval.
The consent decree resolves three lawsuits that were to be tried together: the suit against the Chicago Heights facility (EEOC v. Roadway Express and YRC, N.D. Ill. No. 06 C 4805), and against the Elk Grove Village facility (EEOC v. Roadway Express and YRC, N.D. Ill. No. 08 C 5555), brought by the EEOC under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits race discrimination. In addition, 10 current and former employees intervened in the EEOC action (10 C 5304). The EEOC filed another race discrimination suit against YRC which is still in litigation (EEOC v. Yellow Transportation, Inc. and YRC, Inc. No. 09 CV 7693).
EEOC Chicago District Regional Attorney John Hendrickson said, “This consent decree is an important marker on the road to civil rights on the job. Unfortunately, the American workplace is not free from the racist symbolism of the hangman’s noose or the persistent sting of racist graffiti. But we are moving in a better direction, and we are hopeful that this decree will aid YRC in addressing these problems.” In addition to Hendrickson, the EEOC was represented by Supervisory Trial Attorney Gregory Gochanour and Trial Attorneys Richard Mrizek, Ethan Cohen, and Deborah Hamilton. The 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.