Nooses in the Workplace?

Louisiana company faces complaints of racism in the workplace

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Valli Kane & Vagnini LLP
    Photo of a noose from Valli Kane & Vagnini LLP the law firm representing workers who claim racial discrimination at the Turner Industries plant in Paris.

    Black workers in Texas employed by a Louisiana-based oil-services company were taunted with racial slurs and nooses in the workplace and routinely were denied promotions, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

    At a news conference in downtown Dallas on Wednesday, former and current employees of Turner Industries said the EEOC findings validate complaints they've made for years.

    EEOC: La. Company Discriminates Against Blacks

    [DFW] EEOC: La. Company Discriminates Against Blacks
    The EEOC says black workers at Paris oil-services plant have been subject to racist taunts and nooses in the workplace, the company denies the allegations. (Published Wednesday, Apr 14, 2010)

    "I took it for a long time," said Dontrail Mathis, a 33-year-old painter's helper at the plant in Paris, nearly 100 miles northeast of Dallas. "I had a family to support."

    A group of workers filed a class charge with the EEOC last year. Two weeks ago, the EEOC determined "that on a regular basis ... Black employees were subjected to unwelcome racial slurs, comments and intimidation, racial graffiti, nooses in the workplace and other symbols of discrimination."

    Michael Fetzer, the EEOC's district director in Dallas, wrote that Turner managers were aware of a hostile work environment for black employees but failed to make changes and that black workers received different, lower-paying job assignments and were denied promotions.

    Turner Industries employs about 700 people at the Paris plant, 100 of whom are black.

    In a statement, Turner said it disagrees with the findings but will meet with the EEOC to address all concerns. The company said its own investigation found no discrimination or retaliation against any worker.

    Turner Industries has zero tolerance for any behavior in the work place that disparages any employee.  We remain steadfast in our commitment to creating and maintaining a professional atmosphere that reinforces the company’s commitment to equality, fairness and tolerance.  We can further confirm that Turner has completed a full investigation into all accusations made at the plant.  That investigation revealed that no worker was subject to discrimination or retaliation.  This investigation included the work of an independent and nationally-recognized workplace attorney.

    Turner Industries is aware of the recent determination made by the EEOC.  While we are disappointed that the EEOC has issued this determination and strongly disagree with its findings, we plan to meet with the EEOC to address all concerns.  We aim to demonstrate that Turner’s Paris, Texas facility is free from any form of discrimination, retaliation, or any other workplace conduct that violates either the law or our own high standards for employee conduct.

    JOHN H. FENNER
    Corporate General Counsel
    TURNER INDUSTRIES GROUP, L.L.C.

    Current and former workers at Turner found the company's claims hard to believe. At the news conference Wednesday, they stood in front of enlarged photos showing nooses left around the factory. Photos distributed by attorneys showed racial slurs spray-painted across desks and scrawled onto bathroom walls.

    "It bothers me and it disturbs me," said Stanrod Johnson, a welder. "It makes me think they think I'm stupid, or that I'm a child."

    The workers and their attorneys are expected to meet with Turner officials and the EEOC in a mediation process called conciliation, said James A. Vagnini, a lawyer who represents some of the workers.

    If conciliation fails, Vagnini said he would seek a right-to-sue letter from the agency and proceed with a class-action lawsuit.