Six former employees of a Lansing-based electrical contractor have filed a federal lawsuit against the company alleging pervasive racism on the jobsite. The contractor claims this is a baseless effort to shut down their operations.
The lawsuit against United Electrical Contractors Inc., a non-union store that works in Detroit and the metro area, claims that the use of racial slurs against black, Hispanic and other workers of color was “part of the almost daily vocabulary of many white employees and executives,” and other racial slurs were also regularly used, including references to whipping and planting.
In addition, job training and promotion opportunities were regularly offered to white workers, but not to workers of color. It was common for United Electrical Contractors officials to take no action to end the alleged racism, according to the lawsuit. Black and Hispanic employees with more seniority were terminated, while white employees with less seniority were terminated, according to the complaint.
It also indicates that black employees were often required to do more physically demanding work than white employees, who performed more technical work. Black employees were disciplined for being just five minutes late for their lunch break while white employees were sometimes 30 minutes late without any consequences, according to the lawsuit.
A white employee who confronted mid- and upper-level management about alleged racism on construction sites was forced to dig trenches by hand while others were allowed to use a backhoe, the complaint says.
Scott Flegler, president of United Electrical, in a statement Thursday afternoon, said the complaint “includes new unsubstantiated allegations as part of an ongoing harassment campaign by a union designed to interfere with operations and our business relationships.
He said the plaintiffs filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last year and that while the EEOC has not completed its review, the company “conducted a thorough and independent examination, revealing nothing to support these allegations”.
Detroit-based law firm Miller Cohen PLC is representing the plaintiffs, identified as: Vance Murray, a Southfield resident who is black; Gabriel Tavera, a resident of Jackson who is Mexican American; Marius Richardson, a Bath Township resident who is black; Eric Burch, a Traverse City resident who is black; Tyler Richardson, a Lansing resident who is black; and Jordan Shank, a resident of Atlanta, Michigan, who is white.
“I’ve heard white employees use the N-word so often that it’s become part of the air,” Marius Richardson said in a press release. “At one point, a white co-worker told me to hurry up or he would “retire [his] whip.’ This same employee told me that he was “raised to dislike black people”. The foreman heard these comments and did nothing. In fact, the foreman himself regularly used the N-word. When I reported this racism to management, nothing was done.”
Flegler said the claims made in the lawsuit are different from those made to the EEOC and that the allegations in Thursday’s lawsuit “were never presented to anyone in our business.”
“It further establishes that the real purpose of today’s announcement was to harass and harm our business,” Flegler’s statement read. “Above all, we are proud of our diverse and talented workforce. Diversity is one of our core values and key business differentiators, which is why our employees receive diversity training.
The plaintiff’s attorney said the complaints sounded “like a Jim-Crow era novel”.
“In contemporary civil rights litigation, it is rare to hear about the near-daily use of the worst racial epithets and other forms of harassment, launched in equal measure by oversight and labor. schedule,” Miller Cohen’s Richard Mack said in a statement. “Coupled with the egregious discrimination they faced, the story of these plaintiffs reads like a Jim-Crow era novel. Yet for them, it’s not a story they can finish by closing the book.
Michigan’s Associated Builders and Contractors Inc., in a press release issued in response to the lawsuit, said the suit was a “weak” attempt orchestrated by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers “to oust United Electrical Contractors from many building projects that were rightfully won.”
Jimmy Greene, president of Associated Builders and Contractors of Michigan, who is black, said: ‘It has come to my attention that building trades unions are using derogatory and defamatory accusations of racism or racist behavior against against United Electrical. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
The complaint alleges violations of the Civil Rights Act. If the EEOC issues so-called “right to sue notices,” the complaint would be amended to include other violations of the Civil Rights Act, the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to A press release.