A UPS office in Lexington was sued for hanging a life-sized effigy of a black man by the neck from its ceiling, and it was decided on Thursday that they will have to pay out $5.3 million to the men who sued them for staging the grisly scene, reports ABC.
The discrimination suit was first brought to the attention of the Lexington court nearly two years ago by eight African American UPS employees, who claimed the effigy UPS had hung up had shaken them to their cores. The suit began hearing on April 4, 2016 and was led by Judge Ernesto Scorsone.
“It looked like a black UPS man hanging, and I’m that man,” said one of the plaintiffs, meaning that he saw the effigy as a symbol for him and all other African American UPS employees.
“I wear the brown suit. I wear the brown cap, and I’ve got the brown face, and to come in at 3 o’clock in the morning and see that, it just wasn’t a good feeling. It hurt me real bad.”
UPS argues that the effigy was not hung in an effort to depict a lynching, but rather as a way of modeling a safety procedure. The company said that both hands and one foot of the dummy – who was, admittedly, black – were tied to an actual ladder that was sitting on the ground to demonstrate the “three points of contact” that employees should always maintain when climbing a ladder in order to prevent injury. The rope tied around the black mannequin’s neck and anchored by the ceiling, UPS insists, was simply to prevent the dummy from “falling forward.”
The dummy hung in the UPS office from August 9 through August 13, 2012, and whatever UPS’s intentions were in staging the scene, the men raising the suit claim they were not the only ones who perceived the insensitive nature of the display.
“My white friends came to me and told me, ‘I’m sorry you had to look at that,” recalled 54 year-old William Barber, who was awarded the most money out of all the prosecutors.
Barber claims that the hanging of the dummy was not the first instance of racism he and his African American coworkers encountered working at UPS, and he says that racial epithets and discriminatory treatment had been commonplace for years even before the suit was raised.
“We went to human resources in May of 2009, we went again in 2011, we went again in 2012. They knew it was a problem, they wouldn’t fix it.”
The hanging UPS worker, he explained, was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and the racist working conditions at UPS had only escalated after the incident was reported to human resources.
Barber revealed in the suit that, after reporting the company’s treatment of their black employees, UPS managers had begun to passively threaten the men by accompanying them on their routes “as a subtle means to intimidate and punish the plaintiffs for raising these issues.”
After siding with the prosecution in the suit, reports The Lexington Herald Leader, the court awarded $1.5 million to Barber and anywhere from $100 thousand to $1 million to each of his seven colleagues.
One of the men said how pleasantly surprised he is they won a suit against a huge corporation like UPS.
“It was a relief to know that the jury, our peers, sat and listened and found in our favor. You go up against a big corporation like UPS, usually you get smacked in the face again.”
UPS made it clear, though, that they are still pleading innocence and do not want to let go of the issue just yet.
“UPS is disappointed with the jury’s decision that presented a negative work environment and will consider our options for appeal,” UPS said in a statement issued later on the day the suit was ruled upon.
“The company has strict policies against harassment and discrimination and reinforces there will be no retaliation for concerns that are raised.”
“If I quit, quitting doesn’t fix anything,” reasons Barber.
One might think it odd Barber is returning to the allegedly racist atmosphere that caused him and his coworkers to file the suit in the first place. He is hoping for some change, though.
“The verdict of the jury maybe will change things at UPS, because they really need change… We hope UPS sees this and addresses the situation.”
[Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]