CALIFORNIA (From news reports) -- A federal agency filed suit against a packaging manufacturer at McClellan Park for allegedly tolerating virulent racial taunts against two Black employees who were so distraught by the discrimination that they ultimately left their jobs.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed suit in Sacramento federal court against the Packaging Corp. of America and Schwarz Partners LP alleging that two machine operators at the McClellan operation endured racist comments from 2013 through 2017, including being referred to with racial slurs and having their vehicles vandalized.
The men, whom are not named because they were the alleged victims of harassment and racist acts, both left their jobs in 2017 and filed complaints with the EEOC, which found "reasonable cause" to believe the companies had violated their rights against job discrimination because of their race.
The two sides were unable to negotiate a settlement of the allegations, and the EEOC filed suit seeking a permanent injunction against intimidating or hostile work environments based on race and punitive damages for the two men. PCA operates the plant and Schwarz co-owned it until 2017 and oversaw human resources matters, the suit says.
Schwarz did not respond to a request for comment, but PCA issued a statement the company "is committed to advancing equal opportunity in the workplace."
"As it applies to this matter, the alleged acts described in the lawsuit occurred before we purchased the plant," the statement read. "We do not tolerate discrimination."
The workers could not be reached, but the eight-page lawsuit describes a series of alleged racist acts throughout the plant against Black employees, including having nooses dangled in front of them.
"Non-African-American co-workers would taunt African-American employees for mistakes, real or imagined, by pointing at their own forearms and saying or mouthing 'cause you're Black,'" the lawsuit says. "Management was aware of the epithets and would periodically instruct employees not to use offensive language, but took no other actions to curtail them."
Both men were subjected to nooses, the lawsuit says, including an incident on Aug. 14, 2017, when a shift leader approached one of the men with an air hose fashioned as a noose and asked, "Do you think it will hold?"
The same day, the shift leader sketched a Confederate flag on a paper roll one of the men used for packing manufacturing and wrote the words "long live the confederacy," the suit says.
The next day, a swastika was cut into a paper roll, the suit says.
The men also had their vehicles vandalized, with tires punctured and paint scratched, and one of the men "regularly saw spit on his car," the suit says.
Even after one of the alleged victims complained to the human resources manager about the abuse, no action was taken, the lawsuit says.
"On or around August 2017, (one of the men) reported by email to the Human Resources Manager the confederate flag, 'long live the confederacy' graffiti, the racial slurs, and other harassment," the suit says. "(He) explained that the harassment was ongoing, and identified the perpetrator.
"Despite the report, Human Resources Manager failed to conduct an (adequate) investigation into the harassment. She neither interviewed the individual named as the main perpetrator in (the alleged victim's) complaint, nor interviewed (him), nor reviewed the camera footage of the area where the Shift Lead had drawn on (his) rolls.
"The Human Resources Manager ultimately concluded her investigation due to insufficient evidence of harassment. Defendants did not take any other reasonable steps to prevent the hostile work environment."
One of the men resigned in October 2017 and blamed the racist atmosphere in an email for his departure, the lawsuit says.
"It's hard to deal with the constant racism issues regarding personal boundaries, and I no longer felt comfortable at work," he wrote, according to the lawsuit. "I felt retaliation every time I reported something.
"Similar scenarios have been happening since the previous HR manager was there and I reported with him as well. I wouldn't be leaving if it wasn't for that atmosphere."
The other man left the company in December 2017.
"Federal civil rights law requires that employers take prompt and effective action to stop race-based harassment," William Tamayo, the EEOC's San Francisco District Director, said in a statement. "When put on notice, an employer must take quick and reasonable steps to nip that kind of behavior in the bud before it takes root in the workplace culture."
EEOC trial attorney James H. Baker added that "employers cannot permit race-based slurs and nooses to infect workplaces."
"Workers who encounter such comments and treatment should know that the EEOC will fully investigate and litigate such workplace abuses," Baker said.