NFI Logistics Subjected African-Americans to Offensive Racial Language and Noose Symbol at Bolingbrook Facility, Federal Agency Charges
CHICAGO - NFI Interactive Logistics LLC, a major transportation and distribution services provider, violated federal law by subjecting black employees at the company's Bolingbrook, Ill., facility to harassment based on race and national origin (Ghanaian), the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed today. NFI, which is headquartered in New Jersey, is a privately owned company that counts Trader Joe's, Costco, Wal-Mart and other retailing giants as clients.
According to the EEOC's complaint, NFI management used racial language in the workplace including calling African-American employees "ass monkeys," making comments about blacks swinging through the trees, and describing African-Americans as lazy and dependent on the government. In addition, EEOC alleges, a stuffed monkey was displayed in the workplace and at times had cord or a rope tied around its neck or appeared to be hanging.
Harassment based on race and national origin violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The case, EEOC v.NFI Interactive Logistics, LLC., Civil Action No. 14 cv 07569, was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago and assigned to Judge John W. Darrah.
"This kind of blatant, racially charged conduct - 50 years after the passage of Title VII - is an unfortunate reminder of why the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was and is so necessary," said EEOC Chicago Regional Attorney John Hendrickson. "No employee should face such utterly unacceptable and patently offensive conduct when he or she comes to work. And it's an outright violation of federal law -- a violation which it is the EEOC's mandate to remedy."
John Rowe, the EEOC district director in Chicago, said that the agency's administrative investigation revealed that NFI failed to take the most basic precautions to prevent this kind of behavior. According to Rowe, the company did not provide any training for its workforce or managers on their obligations under Title VII.
"A complete absence of training on the duty to prevent harassment and discrimination is a recipe for disaster," Rowe said.
This suit filed today is not the first time that the EEOC has taken action against a firm in the transportation business for race discrimination. For example, in June 2012, the agency secured an $11 million consent decree in a race discrimination suit against the national freight carrier Yellow Freight involving, among other things, racial graffiti and the appearance of nooses in the workplace. In 2013, the EEOC filed suit against Battaglia Distributing Co., Inc., of Chicago, alleging that it subjected employees to hostile work environment on account of their race.
Supervisory Trial Attorney Gochanour, who will lead the agency's litigation team in the NFI case, explained, "Part of the EEOC's mission is public education about employers' obligations to avoid discrimination and harassment in the workplace, and this continues to be necessary in the trucking business. Though we have had significant settlements in that industry, cases like this show we have a long way to go."
In addition to Hendrickson and Gochanour, Trial Attorney Deborah Hamilton will staff the EEOC's litigation team.
The EEOC's Chicago District Office is responsible for processing discrimination charges, 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 is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. Further information is available on its website www.eeoc.gov.