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Nooses, swastikas, rebel flags lead to EEOC findings

DALLAS — In one of the largest civil rights investigations ever undertaken in Texas, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission declared that at least 100 African-Americans worked in a hostile environment and were subjected to racial graffiti, nooses, and symbols of hate while employed by Turner Industries in Paris, Texas.
The official three-page EEOC Determination, dated March 31, is what plaintiffs, their attorneys, the NAACP, and local civil rights leaders hailed as vindication during a news conference Wednesday morning outside the U.S. Federal Courthouse in Dallas.

News 8 reviewed images of nooses, Swastikas, and Confederate flags on toolboxes, cellular telephones, even welders’ helmets that attorneys said their clients photographed at Turner’s Paris facility, which manufactures oil pipeline products.
“You have African-Americans who’ve complained, who have been terminated, and you have whites who have stood up for the African-Americans who have been terminated,” plaintiffs attorney Sara Kane said.
Discrimination got worse, plaintiffs attorneys said, after the nation elected President Obama.
“As a result, you started to see more graffiti singling out Obama;  you had threats made against the president that the Secret Service investigated;  it became a very hostile environment to work in,” said Jay Ellwanger, another lawyer representing the plaintiffs.
“Turner Industries has a zero tolerance for any behavior in the workplace that disparages any employee,” John Fenner, corporate general counsel for Turner Industries, said in response to an email from News 8.
“We can further confirm that Turner has completed a full investigation into all accusations made at the plant,” he continued. “This investigation included the work of an independent and nationally-recognized workplace attorney. Our investigation revealed that no worker was subject to discrimination nor retaliation.”
The company, which brags it is owned by a woman, said it management held meetings with the entire staff at the Paris location to “clearly state the company’s position that no form of discrimination, racism, or any other behavior that may be interpreted as disparaging to any employee would be tolerated.”
In addition, Fenner said, Turner Industries initiated an Employee Task Force to “gauge employees’ thoughts and considerations regarding the work place.” Many of the Task Force’s recommendations were implemented, Fenner added, though none were specified.
Turner Industries said no one was fired for complaining about racism or in retaliation for it, disputing Kane’s comment.
Of the 37 managers who coordinate work at the Paris facility, Fenner said 78% are white, 12% or four managers are African-American and the remaining few are Hispanic and Indian.
“[Turner Industries] has an outstanding track record of recognizing, protecting, honoring, and enforcing employee rights, including for the last eleven years in Paris,” Fenner continued.
Fenner said Turner Industries is disappointed with the EEOC findings, but plans to meet to address the government’s concerns.
The EEOC’s Determination letter now allows the workers to file a lawsuit, if they choose.
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Posted on April 13, 2010 at 10:30 PM

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