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NAACP Launches Investigation

Black workers sue Turner Industries over harassment
  • Advocate business writer
  • Published: Feb 2, 2011 – Page: 1B

Current, former and potential employees of Turner Industries alleging racial discrimination are seeking salary compensation, court costs and an overhaul of company policies to discourage workplace harassment, according to a federal discrimination lawsuit filed in Texas against Turner Industries LLC.
The lawsuit represents more than 230 black plaintiffs from Turner facilities in Lake Charles, Port Allen and Monroe, as well as locations in Paris, Texas, and Port Arthur, Texas, who say they have been routinely harassed with racial slurs, graffiti and overtly public displays of racial intolerance like hangmen’s nooses.
“The folks that stand behind me should be able to work in a peaceful environment without hangmen’s nooses, without swastikas and things of that nature,” said Earnest L. Johnson, president of the Louisiana chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, at a news conference Tuesday from the rotunda of the Old State Capitol.
The event, which attracted about 20 current and former Turner employees from south Louisiana and Texas, as well as local civil rights leaders, was held to draw attention to the federal lawsuit. Turner Industries is a privately held Baton Rouge industrial services company.
The lawsuit claims Turner violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits workplace discrimination. The 379-page lawsuit was filed Sunday in U.S. District Court, Northern District of Texas.
It follows a March Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigation after eight Turner employees in Texas filed a complaint citing discriminatory treatment.
“I have considered all the evidence disclosed during the investigation and find that there is reasonable cause to believe that Title VII violations occurred,” wrote Michael Fetzer, Dallas District director of the EEOC.
Attempts at mediation with Turner Industries proved unsuccessful, said James Vagnini, an attorney for Valli Kane and Vagnini in Garden City, N.Y., who represented workers in the EEOC case and now in the lawsuit filed Sunday.
Turner officials denied any wrongdoing and said that name-calling and other incendiary displays are not tolerated.
“Make no mistake, Turner Industries stands for diversity and inclusion for all,” Roland Toups, Turner Industries’ chairman and chief executive officer, said in a statement. “Our record supports that. We intend to defend our company and the jobs of our 15,000 employees who are employed in various divisions of the company. We also assure our customers that our 50 years in the business and our commitments to them shall remain strong and true.”
Turner officials contend that a number of the claimants on the lawsuit have never worked for the company, while some of the others are no longer employed.
Records show that relatively few actually reported complaints of discrimination or harassment to the company, said John Fenner, general counsel for Turner.
“They want nothing to do with the complaints,” Vagnini said of Turner Industries. “They don’t believe in any of my clients and what they’re saying.”
Some of those claimants are people like Calvin Stewart, a Turner welder at the Port Allen facility, where he worked for nearly 20 years until being laid off in August.
Stewart, 48, said the reason given was “reduction of force.” However, he added complaints regarding racial slurs and other harassment were routinely ignored by management.
“Most of the time when you went to a supervisor, they treated you with a bad attitude, as a troublemaker,” Stewart said Tuesday.

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