Race Harassment Case: Racist Employees Costs WRS Compass $2.75 Million

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Race harassment can be costly for employers. Racist employees cost Tampa-based environmental cleanup company WRS Compass $2.75 million and a three-year nationwide consent decree to resolve a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) racial discrimination case.

The EEOC’s suit against WRS Environment and Infrastructure, Inc., a WRS Compass subsidiary, involved seven black workers at its Lake Calumet, Ill., work site.

EEOC fine WRS Compass in race harassment caseThe African-American workers were confronted with a racially hostile work environment, discriminatory terms and conditions of employment. The company also illegally retaliated against employees who complained about discrimination.

The harassment against African-American employees included multiple hangman’s nooses, repeated use of the “N-word,” less favorable equipment assignments and physical threats from coworkers. When two of the black workers complained about this campaign of harassment, they were laid off, the EEOC said.

White employees who attempted to stand up for the black employees were also harassed.

The EEOC charged that WRS created a hostile work environment for four white workers who associated with African-American employees.

A foreman at the Lake Calumet site allegedly called one of the white employees “n—-r lover” and another white employee a “coon lover.” The foreman and other white workers physically threatened the four white workers.

Race harassment like that at the WRS Compass work site violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit against WRS Compess after attempting to reach a settlement through its conciliation process.

WRS tried unsuccessfully to dismiss the entire race harassment case.

The court rejected the majority of WRS’s motion and preserved most of the EEOC’s claims, writing, “It is undisputed that WRS did not provide any harassment training to employees (whether union or management) at the Lake Calumet site and did not give its employees a phone number to contact the company’s health and safety officer or human resources department.”

The court also noted that “WRS did not post its non-discrimination / harassment policy at the Lake Calumet site until the day after the noose appeared on [a] truck.”

“This settlement reinforces the agency’s commitment to root out racial hostility where it persists in the modern workplace,” said P. David Lopez, EEOC general counsel. “The EEOC has successfully prosecuted several racial harassment cases and will continue to do so until this toxic workplace behavior is eradicated.”

Besides the $2.75 million in for the 11 victims, a three-year nationwide consent decree includes injunctions against race harassment and discrimination (including associational race discrimination) and retaliation.

Race Harassment Black And White In This Case

The EEOC’s claims of racial association harassment were dismissed, but the consent decree prohibits racial association harassment. The decree also requires training and reporting on race harassment due to racial association.

WRS must revise its anti-discrimination policy and conduct training on the policy. It must develop a policy on how to investigate discrimination or race harassment complaints and evaluate its supervisors on compliance with the new anti-discrimination policy.

The decree requires WRS to report all discrimination complaints to the EEOC on a semi-annual basis. It also provides a way for the workers involved to seek court assistance should disputes arise about violations of the discrimination and retaliation injunctions.

“The EEOC takes racial threats and intimidation in the workplace very seriously and will take actions against employers who permit employees to be harassed because of race or because of racial association,” said John Hendrickson, EEOC regional attorney in Chicago.

Further EEOC information is available at www.eeoc.gov.
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