Seven warehouse workers were awarded nearly $15 million after it was determined that supervisors segregated employees based on race and degraded black employees by calling them “lazy, stupid Africans.”
The Denver Post reports that a federal jury in Denver, Colorado, awarded seven warehouse workers almost $15 million following a lawsuit of racial discrimination in the workplace. The plaintiffs included six black workers and one white whistle-blower who says he was called “the tribe’s assistant” after he spoke out against segregation of the workforce by race.
The lawsuit against Matheson Trucking and Matheson Flight Extenders Inc claims that at the Commerce City warehouse workers were divided by race. Black workers were put on one side of the building and white workers on the other. The black workers were also degraded and called “lazy, stupid Africans” by supervisors.
The lawsuit says that racial slurs, such as the N-word, were frequently used by white employees and supervisors when referring to black coworkers. On one particular occasion, the plaintiffs say that a white co-worker yelled that all blacks should be shot. Instead of reprimanding the worker who called for the death of blacks, the company later promoted him to a supervisory position.
The racial divide was evident throughout Matheson, according to the lawsuit, and supervisors did little to help the situation. In fact, it was reported that they encouraged the behavior. When the one white plaintiff, Dean Patricelli, went to supervisors about the treatment of the black workers, he was called names and subsequently fired. Patricelli says he was called “the tribe’s assistant” and “Bemba’s boy” by supervisors.
“Basically, I did the right thing. This isn’t 1960 anymore.”
The Daily Mail reports that the plaintiffs in the case say the situation became worse in 2007 when Leslie Capra became the station manager. At this point, the workers say that it became acceptable to be “more openly hostile towards black employees.” Plaintiff Ernie Duke said he thought he was transported back to the “South.”
“I thought I was back South again with the same old racist attitudes.”
The judge ruled in favor of the warehouse workers and ordered Matheson to pay nearly $15 million in damages to the seven workers. The damages were paid as follows: $13 million in punitive damages, $318,000 in back pay for workers who were fired for being black, and another $650,000 for emotional distress. Matheson was also ordered to pay for the plaintiffs’ legal costs.
Following the ruling, Matheson says they plan to appeal the verdict and that the company “prides itself on hiring and employing a highly diverse workforce consisting of men and women of different races and cultures.”
[Image Credit: Denver Post]