Testimony Begins In Civil Trial Against DOT
Posted May 10, 2005 8:06 a.m. EDT
RALEIGH, N.C. — Testimony began Tuesday in federal court in the case of seven black North Carolina Department of Transportation employees who claim their employer permitted a racially hostile workplace.
The suit said the DOT failed to stop a white co-worker from displaying a hangman's noose during Black History Month in 2002.
Shop worker James Mitchell was first on the stand telling jurors he saw a white co-worker hang the noose.
'I was very hurt by it," Mitchell said. The Gulf War veteran also testified it triggered his post-traumatic stress disorder.
During cross-examination, DOT attorneys tried to chip away at Mitchell's story. They showed him time cards that indicated he was not even clocked in when he said he watched the noose go up. They also pointed out that the plaintiffs never complained to supervisors, and even joined white co-workers for barbecues.
The seven black men contend that DOT managers knew about the display in West Raleigh and at first did nothing. They say state transportation officials then engaged in a bad-faith investigation to cover up the existence of the noose.
DOT officials have said the loop-tied rope was a tool, not a noose. Several white employees have suggested that the black employees likely hung a noose themselves to earn a financial windfall from a lawsuit.
State officials said that none of the black employees filed a complaint within the agency, so DOT management was not aware of any problem. They also point to four state investigations that cleared the agency of any wrongdoing.
The discrimination trial resumes Wednesday morning.