Black Construction Workers File Suit Alleging Employers Do Not Stop Racial Abuse

Four elevator mechanics say they were subject to racist slurs from supervisors, nooses and racist graffiti in their workspaces

Elevator mechanics Craig Martin, Gabriel Ross, Lavell Roberson and Leiroi Bowie filed a lawsuit in September alleging that while employed at Mitsubishi Electric U.S. they’ve been subjected to racial harassment, discrimination and retaliation since 2016.

“I’ve only worked for two companies, and at both companies I received a noose,” Bowie told the San Francisco Chronicle.

When he arrived at a construction site at 1100 Broadway in Oakland on June 26, 2019, Bowie found a noose on the barricade near his assigned elevator.

Bowie, 42, complained to his supervisors, but he says they brushed him off.

In the lawsuit, the four men say supervisors referred to them as “undesirables,” “lazy” and “dumb N-words.” They say they were subjected to racist imagery — swastikas, “KKK” markings and black monkeys — and racist jokes, like a hanging man with slots that spelled the N-word, in the bathrooms, at their work stations and on their personal property.

After reporting the behavior to supervisors and human resources, Bowie, Martin, Ross and Roberson say they were assigned menial tasks, such as cleaning and sweeping floors while apprentices worked on elevators.

In 2018, Black people accounted for just 7% of the construction workforce in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That number has changed little in 25 years.

In a statement, Michael Corbo, Mitsubishi Electric’s chief operating officer contradicted the men, saying the company doesn’t tolerate harassment, discrimination or retaliation, that the company investigated all complaints these employees raised “and took prompt action as appropriate. The company cannot comment on the specifics of this matter due to employee privacy rights.”