Monday, July 20, 2009

LEGAL BRIEF: Supervisor Says, "Maybe He Just Likes Nooses!"

The Legal Brief gives everyone an idea of some of the types of cases that EEOC litigates, provides information on anti-discrimination legal proceedings/court rulings, and identifies some of the specific race-based issues that other Blacks have faced and challenged in the workplace. The Legal Brief also provides insight into the arguments presented by EEOC and the defenses offered by employers. This information may be helpful to workers, who may be considering filing a complaint or seeking legal counsel, as well as to employees who feel they are becoming embroiled in race-related issues at work.

This legal brief is about a Tampa based company that allowed and even encouraged a racially hostile environment for Black workers, as well as for a White worker who sided with the targeted employees. Black workers were subjected to a coworker parking his vehicle with a noose hanging from it. After complaining, the superintendent suggested that the noose might not be racial because the White worker might just like nooses—nothing more and nothing less.

A Black worker was laid off for complaining about racially motivated abuse, including Black workers being referred to by the “n” word.

This case represents an example of overt racism. Many of us have experienced some form of racism at work, but it’s not often that it includes folks coming right out and calling you a nig*er and hanging nooses in your face in order to harass, threaten, and intimidate you. For more details on this EEOC complaint, see below:


Additional Discrimination and Retaliation Also Alleged by EEOC

CHICAGO – A Tampa-based environmental clean-up company violated federal law by discriminating against and racially harassing African American employees at its Lake Calumet work site in Chicago, including the display of hangman’s nooses, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit announced on July 16th.

According to the EEOC’s suit, WRS Infrastructure and Environmental, Inc. (doing business as WRS Compass) subjected its black workers to a racially hostile work environment, discriminatory terms and conditions of employment, and unlawfully retaliated against an employee when he com­plained about the discrimination. The EEOC also charged that WRS created a hostile work environ­ment for a white worker who associated with African American employees.

According to John Rowe, the EEOC’s district director in Chicago, black employees were subjected to a noose exhibited on a white co-worker’s vehicle parked at the job site. When the workers complained to the superintendent about the noose, he took no action, but rather responded that “maybe the white employee liked nooses.” Rowe said the EEOC’s pre-suit administrative investi­gation also revealed that later a hangman’s noose was also left for an African American employee on the steering wheel of his dump truck.

Rowe added that the EEOC’s investigation found that white workers referred to black co-workers as “n----rs” and other racially derogatory terms. One of the white workers who stood up for the African American workers was referred to as a “n-----r lover” and subjected to other derogatory comments and treatment. After one of the African American workers complained about the harassment to management, he was laid off from the job. In addition, the EEOC alleges in its lawsuit that WRS subjected African American workers to less favorable equipment assignments and harsher discipline at the jobsite.

All this alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed its suit, captioned EEOC v. WRS Infrastructure and Environmental, Inc.,in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, on July 15, 2009, after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement through its conciliation process. The lawsuit has been designated Civil Action No. 09 CV 4272 and assigned to U.S. District Judge Virginia M. Kendall and Magistrate Judge Geraldine Soat Brown. The government’s litigation effort will be led by EEOC Supervisory Trial Attorney Gregory Gochanour and Trial Attorney Richard Mrizek.

John Hendrickson, the EEOC’s regional attorney in Chicago said, “Because of Title VII -- which is the law of the land -- there is no longer any place for racism in any American workplace covered by federal law, especially the virulent and open sort alleged here. Those days are over. Any company that still permits the unmistakably violent racist imagery of the hangman’s noose to be displayed in the workplace risks serious legal consequences.”

WRS Compass restores contaminated properties. According to its web site (, WRS has over 600 employees and 12 offices nationwide, including the one in Chicago.

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on the agency’s web site at



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