On Wednesday, a jury awarded nearly $15 million to a group of workers who had been discriminated against by their Colorado employer. The Denver Post reports that the workers, all but one of whom are black, and mostly from the African country of Mali, were routinely abused by their employer, Matheson Trucking and Matheson Flight Extenders,Inc. The company handles mail and parcels for the postal service, and private carriers such as UPS and FedEx.
According to the suit, all black employees worked on one side of the company’s warehouse, while white employees worked on the other side. White supervisors, as well as white employees, called the black workers “n*ggers,” and “lazy, stupid Africans.” The Denver Post reports that in one instance, a white employee yelled that all blacks should be shot. According to documents obtained by the plaintiffs, the worker’s comment was overheard by a supervisor, and, not only was he not disciplined, he was later promoted.
Dean Patricelli, a white worker at the company, and the only white worker among the plaintiffs, stood up for his co-workers against their bosses. He was then labeled, “the tribe’s assistant,” and “Bemba’s boy,” a reference to one of the black workers, by supervisors. Patricelli tells the Denver Post, “Basically, I did the right thing. This isn’t 1960 anymore.” He lost his job soon afterwards.
Another plaintiff, Ernie Duke, who had worked at the company for nine years and was second in seniority, says, “I thought I was back South again with the same old racist attitudes.”
The plaintiffs obtained documents that showed that the company was using downsizing as a way to get rid of black workers. For example, all of the African workers who worked the midnight to 7 a.m. shift were laid off, and they were replaced with white, temporary workers. Also, black workers were discriminated against in terms of scheduling. All workers liked working holidays, according to the Denver Post, because they would receive double pay. But, black workers were skipped over for holiday shifts, which were given to white workers instead, even if they had less seniority.
The lawsuit says the racism worsened with new management.
In 2007, Leslie Capra became the station manager. The lawsuit says,
Ms. Capra became more openly hostile towards black employees, encouraging the supervisors and leads under her management to do likewise. Under Ms. Capra’s management, black employees were discriminated against with respect to almost every aspect of their employment.
The lawsuit says that the plaintiffs, all of whom are part time workers, were discriminated against in almost every aspect of their employment, including vacation pay, promotions, discipline, benefits, and wages. The federal jury agreed with the plaintiffs, and, on Wednesday, awarded them a total of $15 million. The judgement includes $318,000 of back pay for those who were fired, or who had their hours cut back because of their race. The jury also awarded $650,000 for emotional distress. Another $14 million was awarded in punitive damages. The company will likely have to pay the plaintiff’s legal expenses, as well.
The plaintiffs are: Patricelli, Duke, Andre De Oliveira, who is from Brazil, Mahamet Camara, Bemba Diallo, Salif Diallo, and Macire Diarra, all from Mali.
Stacey Campbell, an attorney for Matheson, said, in a statement issued to the Denver Post, “(Matheson) prides itself on hiring and employing a highly diverse workforce consisting of men and women of different races and cultures.” The company plans to appeal the decision.
Anybody want to step to the microphone and discuss our supposedly “post racial society?”
Here’s a video report, from Colorado’s KUSA:
Image via the Denver Post