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Houston activists condemn services firm

Officials at Turner Industries deny racial bias

Jan. 31, 2011, 8:05PM

Several dozen activists rallied outside the Mickey Leland Federal Building in Houston on Monday to protest Turner Industries Group of Baton Rouge, a privately owned industrial services company that faces allegations of racial discrimination, retaliation and a hostile work environment.

The rally came on the heels of a lawsuit filed Sunday by more than 230 current and former employees.

The suit seeks economic damages for the workers’ emotional pain and anguish, as well injunctive relief that would require Turner to provide employment discrimination training for all workers, diversity training for all managers, and human resources representatives for all the company’s locations.

Turner has a plant in Pasadena, as well as facilities in Beaumont, Corpus Christi, and Paris, Texas; Port Allen, Sulphur and New Orleans, La.; and Decatur, Ala.

The 374-page complaint, filed in U.S. Court for the Eastern District of Texas in Marshall, details accusations that black employees were subjected to racial slurs and exposed to swastikas, drawings of nooses, racist jokes, Confederate flags and Aryan Brotherhood symbols, including “KKK” and lightning bolts, a symbol known to be used by the Ku Klux Klan.

Company’s response

In a statement released Monday, Turner denied that the company unlawfully harassed or discriminated against any employees because of race or any other criteria.

“Make no mistake, Turner Industries stands for diversity and inclusion for all,” Chairman and CEO Roland Toups said in the 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.”

The statement said some of the individuals named in the suit never worked for Turner, most are no longer employed with the company, and many who filed charges raised claims during periods in which they were not employed with Turner.

“Many have also returned to work for Turner Industries several times,” the statement said. “Records show that relatively few actually reported complaints of discrimination or harassment to the company.”

One of the workers for the company, Nina Taylor, 47, says she found a noose in a gang box at the company’s Beaumont facility.

“The general foreman had a coworker of mine tell me to go clean it,” Taylor said. “After the shock wore off, I started taking pictures, and the general foreman runs up to me and we have a verbal altercation. … They wouldn’t let me leave, they wouldn’t let me go back to work. I felt like they held me hostage there.”

When she returned to work, she learned her co-workers knew she had filed a complaint. One white colleague warned her not to eat her lunch one day because someone had spit in her food.

“I would like Turner to be forced to enforce their rules,” Taylor said. “I mean, they have it written down on paper that no employee should be discriminated against, but no one actually enforces the rules.”

Plant lost EEOC ruling

Everyone involved in the noose incident is still employed with Turner, said James Vagnini, an attorney for Taylor and other workers.

Last year, the company settled with a handful of Paris employees after an investigation by Equal Employment Opportunity Commission determined that black workers at the plant faced racial harassment and discrimination.

The EEOC also concluded that black workers were denied promotions and disciplined more harshly than whites, and that managers retaliated against workers who complained.

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