Jury Awards $200,000 in Damages Against A.C. Widenhouse in EEOC Race Harassment Suit

Jury Determines Trucking Company Subjected  African-American Employees to Racial Slurs and Nooses

WINSTON SALEM,  N.C. - In a legal victory for the U.S. Equal Employmen Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a North Carolina federal jury has awarded  compensatory and punitive damages against A.C. Widenhouse, Inc., a Concord,  N.C.-based trucking company, the agency announced today. 

On Jan. 28, the  Winston-Salem jury of eight returned a unanimous verdict finding that Contonius Gill and Robert Floyd, Jr., former Widenhouse employees, were discriminated  against based on their race, African-American.   The jury also found that Gill was fired in retaliation for complaining  about racial harassment at Widenhouse. The jury awarded a total of $200,000 in compensatory and punitive  damages to the men.  The court will now  decide back pay damages for Gill and injunctive relief.

According to the  EEOC's lawsuit, Gill and Floyd worked as truck drivers for the company.  From as early as May 2007 through at least  June 2008, Gill was repeatedly subjected to unwelcome  derogatory racial comments and slurs by the  facility's general manager, who was also his supervisor; the company's  dispatcher; several mechanics; and other truck drivers, all of whom are white.  The comments and slurs included "n----r,"  "monkey" and "boy."  Gill testified that  on one occasion he was approached by a co-worker with a noose and was told,  "This is for you.  Do you want to hang  from the family tree?"  Gill further  testified that he was asked by white employees if he wanted to be the "coon" in  their "coon hunt." 

Floyd testified that he also  was subjected to repeated derogatory racial comments and slurs by the company's  general manager and white employees.   Floyd testified that when he was hired in 2005, he was the only  African-American working at the company.   Floyd said the company's general manager told him that he was the  company's "token black."  Floyd testified  that on another occasion the general manager told him, "Don't find a noose with  your name on it," and talked about having some of his "friends" visit Floyd in  the middle of the night.   Gill repeatedly complained about racial harassment to the  company's dispatcher and general manager and Floyd complained to an owner of  Widenhouse, but both men testified that the harassment continued.  

Gill intervened  in the lawsuit and in addition to the EEOC's claim of racial harassment, Gill  said Widenhouse fired him based on his race and in retaliation for complaining  about the racial harassment.  The jury  also returned a verdict in favor of Gill on both of his discriminatory  discharge claims.

Race discrimination,  including racial harassment, and retaliation for complaining about it, violate Title  VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  The  EEOC filed suit (Equal Employment Opportunity  Commission v. A.C. Widenhouse, Inc., 1:11-cv-00498), in U.S. District Court for  the Middle District of North Carolina after first attempting to reach voluntary  settlement through its conciliation process.

"This is the second jury  verdict we have had within the last few months in a case alleging racial  harassment," said EEOC General Counsel P. David Lopez.  "It is unfortunate that work­place racial  harassment persists in the 21st century, and the EEOC will take those cases to  trial, if necessary, to vindicate the rights of the victims."

"The jury verdict  in this case is significant because it is a reminder to employers that race  harassment and racial discrimination cannot be tolerated in the workplace," said  Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for the EEOC's Charlotte District  Office.  "The jury, acting as the  conscience of this community, properly found that Widenhouse engaged in conduct  that warranted an award of punitive damages.   Such damages are designed to punish Widenhouse's past conduct and to  deter this employer, as well as other employers, from engaging in this type of  race discrimination.  We are hopeful that  this verdict sends a strong message to employers."

EEOC Trial Attorney Nicholas Walter, who tried the case, added, "We  are pleased with the verdict and happy for Mr. Gill and Mr. Floyd.  The jury took less than an hour to vindicate  the rights of these gentlemen.  The EEOC  will pursue future cases of racial harassment and discrimination with the same  diligence and fervor it did in this case against Widenhouse."

The EEOC enforces  federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination.  Further information about the EEOC is  available on the agency's web site at www.eeoc.gov


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