SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah-based construction company has been ordered to pay a $230,000 settlement over a lawsuit alleging racial harassment in the work place.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit against Holmes & Holmes Industrial, Inc. in September 2010, alleging that brothers Antonio and Joby Bratcher, as well as James Buie, were subjected to a hostile work environment based on race. The Bratchers and Buie are African-American.
Court documents show that several white Holmes employees, including a supervisor, admitted to using racial epithets such as the N-word in front of African-American employees on multiple occasions, as well as telling inappropriate jokes.
“The undisputed facts establish that (the Bratchers and Buie) made numerous complaints to management and co-workers, stating that they were offended,” Judge Dale A. Kimball wrote in an October 2012 memorandum and order. “As early as April 26, 2006, Antonio Bratcher complained in writing about racial harassment by a supervisor. Antonio made clear in his written complaint that he was upset and offended that a white supervisor would use the (N-word) in his presence, and in front of other white employees.”
Due to a harassment policy that was deemed “unreasonable as a matter of law” and did not specifically mention racial harassment, employees were required to file a complaint with the very supervisor who used the racially prejudiced words or engaged in other forms of racial harassment.
The settlement is made up of $50,000 in compensatory damages for each of three men as well as $80,000 in back pay for Joby Bratcher, who was fired, according to an EEOC release issued on April 16.
“Employers have an obligation to protect their employees from the use of racial slurs and epithets,” said EEOC attorney David Lopez in a prepared statement. “This case is our latest in a series of successes to combat racial harassment in the workplace. This conduct has no place nearly 50 years after the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”
Jeanetta Williams, president of the Salt Lake branch of the NAACP, said her organization was "pleased with this ruling."
Holmes will also be required to review its policies concerning “protected-class discrimination and retaliation,” institute a harassment training program that includes a component on racial discrimination, discuss harassment on the work site monthly and provide for an “external ombudsman” to oversee and investigate claims of discrimination.
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