Nineteen workers at a United Parcel Service distribution center in Ohio are suing their employer, claiming management at the facility “enabled, tolerated, and purposefully promoted and encouraged a culture of racism and racially discriminatory conduct.”
The company itself is named as well as five supervisors and managers who defendants say maintained a racially hostile work environment, according to a copy of the lawsuit filed Wednesday in the Lucas County Court of Common Pleas and obtained by the Toledo Blade.
“African-American employees come to work each day not knowing whether a racist comment or conduct will confront them, being concerned that smirking or laughing white employees are ridiculing them because of their race, and walking on eggshells to avoid triggering a problem,” the suit reads.
The 46-page lawsuit details a pattern of racist incidents and discriminatory behavior that workers, some of whom have been at the company for more than two decades, witnessed at the distribution center in Maumee.
“UPS promptly investigated and took swift disciplinary action against those found to have engaged in inappropriate actions, including the discharge of two employees,” UPS spokesperson Dean Foust said in a statement. “Since that time the company has participated in remedial actions in cooperation with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission so that employees are trained and our operations are monitored to ensure we maintain a positive work environment free of harassment.”
In a July 2016 incident, the lawsuit alleges, one of the defendants created two nooses and hung them over the desk of an African American employee while a supervisor and other white co-workers made jokes.
Although that employee was fired, the victim was told not to speak about the incident and that he could be disciplined for taking photographs of the nooses.
Days later, the suit claims, another African American employee received text messages from white co-workers in a group chat regarding potential lottery winnings that contained references to hangings such as: “If you feel down and out, the noose is loose” and “Can we buy another noose with the winnings.”
Although the incident was reported to management, employees say no disciplinary action was taken.
The lawsuit also claims that in September 2016 a white employee refused to deliver a package to a predominately African American neighborhood and used a racial slur to describe the area.
Although the employee was initially fired, she was “almost immediately, voluntarily reinstated by UPS,” according to the suit.
These incidents, along with others including remarks about Ku Klux Klan meetings, the presence of Confederate flags and the display of a stuffed monkey dressed as a UPS employee, combined to create a racially hostile work environment, the suit claims.
The employees also claim that African American workers faced discrimination in the hiring, promotion and discipline processes. White employees with less seniority and fewer qualifications were chosen for promotions and favorable work assignments over black employees, the suit states.
Employees point out that the Ohio Civil Rights Commission received several complaints from employees and determined “there was probable cause to believe that discrimination and retaliation had occurred,” in June 2017.
However, the Commission chose not to pursue charges and instead enacted an agreement with UPS that provided no compensation to the plaintiffs and required no admission of wrongdoing from the company.
The employees are seeking “declaratory and injunctive relief” concerning the alleged discrimination, compensatory damages exceeding $25,000, legal fees and an unspecified amount of punitive damages “to deter future unlawful conduct.”
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