Press Release 03-21-2006

EEOC OBTAINS $1 MILLION FOR BLACK MAN CHOKED WITH HANGMAN'S NOOSE BY WHITE CO-WORKERS

Lawsuit Charged Commercial Coating Service with Severe Racial Harassment

                                 

HOUSTON – The U.S. Equal  Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) today announced the settlement of a  racial harassment lawsuit against Commercial Coating Service, Inc. for more  than $1 million on behalf of a black employee who was subjected to a barrage of  racial epithets, culminating in an incident where white co-workers placed a  noose around his neck in the company bathroom and choked him in October 2002. 

In its lawsuit,  filed in 2003 (EEOC et al. v. Commercial Coating Service, Inc., civil  action no. H-03-3984), the EEOC asserted that Commercial Coating did not stop  its employees, including managers, from harassing charging party Charles  Hickman on the basis of his race (black) and subjecting him to a racially  hostile work environment – including verbal and physical abuse.  The company, located in Conroe, Texas,  specializes in internal and external application of various coating bends,  fittings, fabricated spools, valves, and short runs of straight pipe.

“It is  shocking that such egregious racial harassment still occurs in the 21st century  workplace, more than 40 years after passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act,”  said EEOC’s Houston District Director Jeanette Leino.

 The suit  was filed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas,  Houston Division, after the EEOC first attempted to reach a voluntary  pre-litigation settlement.  In addition  to the monetary relief for Mr. Hickman, who worked as a sandblaster, the company  agreed to enter into a consent decree that will overhaul its employment  practices to improve the corporate culture and further equal employment  opportunities. The consent decree will be overseen by U.S. District Judge Keith  Ellison, who signed it yesterday.

EEOC’s Houston  Regional Attorney, Jim Sacher, noted: “In addition to being choked with a  hangman’s noose, Mr. Hickman was called the N-word and a monkey.  The facts showed that the company was aware  of the unlawful conduct and did not stop it, which only caused a bad situation  to get much worse.”

Rudy L.  Sustaita, the lead attorney for the EEOC in the case, said: “We are pleased with  the resolution and look forward to working with the company to make sure this  kind of malicious conduct never occurs again.   Settling the case saves judicial resources and removes uncertainty for  Mr. Hickman, but despite the large monetary settlement, we feel no amount of  money satisfactorily compensates him for such appalling discrimination.  We call on all employers to be vigilant in  rooting out race discrimination from the workplace.”

The EEOC is the federal government  agency responsible for enforcing the nation's anti-discrimination laws in the  workplace.  Further information about the  Commission is available on the agency’s web site at www.eeoc.gov.