Jury Rules DOT Not Liable In Discrimination Lawsuit
Posted May 18, 2005 7:10 a.m. EDT
RALEIGH, N.C. — The state Department of Transportation allowed a racially hostile workplace at a maintenance shop, but should not have to pay damages to black workers who sued after a white co-worker hung a noose in the workplace, a federal jury decided Wednesday.
The suit by seven workers -- James Isaac, William Stewart, Alvin Williams, Gerald Agnew, Raymond Chavis, James Mitchell and Lydell Landrum -- charged civil rights violations and said white supervisors did nothing about the situation, even after learning of the noose.
Lawyers for the DOT argued the state agency should not be held responsible because upper managers did not learn of the noose incident until the employees filed a civil-rights complaint.
The plaintiffs sought an unspecified amount of monetary damages.
After the verdict, the employees gathered outside the Federal Building to discuss their next move.
"We took on the state of North Carolina and we came out victorious," said Landrum. "We got 12 votes that said we were in a hostile working environment. I couldn't ask for anything better."
Despite the court's split decision, the seven plaintiffs, four of which are still employed by the DOT, said they will continue their struggle against racism within the Department of Transportation.
The plaintiffs' complaints led the Federal Highway Administration to send an investigative team to North Carolina in 2004 to interview workers and examine complaints the state transportation department tolerated and tried to cover up racial harassment.
The investigative team found that the state department failed to meet "basic requirements" of federal regulations and faulted it for not putting enough emphasis on fair employment.
State Transportation Secretary Lyndo Tippett has improved the department's handling of such matters, but has not done anything to address the "cover up" of racial discrimination in the maintenance shop, plaintiff's lawyer Al McSurely charged.