Construction contractor CCC Group Inc. violated federal law when it fostered a work environment rife with racist comments and discriminatory work conditions, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit.
The San Antonio, Texas-based construction company operated a construction site in Ravena, N.Y., in 2016. According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, white supervisors and employees regularly made unwelcome racist comments, used racial slurs, threatened black employees with nooses, and subjected African American employees to harsher working conditions than white co-workers.
The EEOC charges that white employees frequently referred to black employees with insulting racial epithets. According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, some of this harassment occurred on a company radio channel for all to hear. White employees bragged that their ancestors had owned slaves and told a black employee he walked funny because slaves used to walk with a bag on their shoulder picking cotton.
Further, one white supervisor attempted to snare an employee with a noose, the EEOC said. Another Caucasian supervisor told an African American employee that for Halloween, “You don’t even have to dress up. I will dress in white and put a noose around your neck and we’ll walk down the street together.”
The EEOC further charges that African American employees were given more physically taxing and dangerous work than Caucasian counterparts, including being assigned outdoor work in winter while white colleagues worked inside. Black employees objected to and complained about the racial harassment, but it persisted, the EEOC said.
Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of race. Race harassment is a form of race discrimination that is prohibited by the statute.
The EEOC filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through the agency’s conciliation process. The EEOC seeks compensatory damages and punitive damages for the affected employees, and injunctive relief to remedy and prevent future workplace racial harassment.
“Employers need to proactively prevent any behavior that creates a racially hostile workplace,” said Jeffrey Burstein, regional attorney for the EEOC’s New York District Office. “Here there were numerous examples of abhorrent racial discrimination and harassment. The use of a noose is especially vicious. Such misconduct violates federal law and common decency.”
Judy Keenan, acting director of the New York District Office, added, “Racial harassment is never acceptable. This harassment was especially vicious, widespread and continuous, and the employer failed to do anything to stop it.”
The EEOC’s New York District Office is responsible for processing discrimination charges, administrative enforcement, and the conduct of agency litigation in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, northern New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont. The agency’s Buffalo Local Office conducted the investigation resulting in this lawsuit.
The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination.