Supervisor sues Omni hotels, alleging sexual harassment and retaliation when she reported it

A former supervisor with Omni Hotels & Resorts has filed suit against the Dallas-based company, alleging sexual harassment and saying the company broke federal laws governing equal pay.Continue reading

$4 Million Victory Against Turner Industries

Jury returns verdict of over $4 million for two East Texas employees of Turner Industries subjected to racial steering, denial of advancement and racial harassment. These are two plaintiffs in a wave of hundreds to be tried.
Since early 2009, Valli Kane & Vagnini and DiNovo Price & Ellwanger have jointly represented their clients in a historic Title VII Civil Rights battle against Baton Rouge, Louisiana-based Turner Industries Group.  The firms became involved when they responded to requests for representation from a small number of African-American laborers working for Turner Industries in their pipe fabrication plant in Paris, Texas.   Evidence supported allegations of a widespread hostile work environment for African-Americans; nooses were displayed in the workplace, along with repeated racial graffiti and the use of racial epithets by white co-workers and supervisors.  Rather than respond to workers’ request for help, a high level decision was made by Turner Industries to deny these allegations and fight the workers who had complained to the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”).
Following a year-long investigation by the EEOC, during which Turner Industries permitted this environment to continue, African-American workers received their first victory when the EEOC issued its determination that a class of African-American workers were subjected to unlawful racial harassment, discrimination, and retaliation at the hands of Turner Industries.  Turner retreated and chose to once again turn their backs on their remaining African-American employees who were subjected to similar treatment for years.  As a result, over 275 current and former African-American men and women came forward with evidence of racial harassment in other Turner locations such as their Port Allen, Louisiana and Pasadena, Texas,  as well as Turner’s third-party work locations throughout the Gulf South.  These work sites were owned and operated by large companies (and Turner customers) such as ExxonMobil, Sasol, Marathon, and Westlake, among others.
Given Turner’s refusal to address these widespread problems, these employees brought their claims to Federal Court.  The claims of the Texas employees are filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas and the claims of Louisiana employees are filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana.  The first wave of 10 plaintiffs went to trial on October 15, 2012.  After a four day trial, African-American workers at Turner were handed another monumental victory: the jury awarded over $4 million in damages to two of the Plaintiffs.  The two cases were vastly different from one another.  One Plaintiff worked for Turner Industries for several years up until he was fired in 2008.  He was subjected to an extensive hostile work environment where he was exposed to numerous racial epithets by his co-workers and supervisors, including the “N” word.   The second Plaintiff did not allege a hostile work environment.  Instead, upon hiring, he was steered into a Painting and Blasting department where African-American employees were segregated from White workers.  This was and still is a dangerous environment where employees were not provided proper safety gear and where they were paid significantly less than the White workers who were steered to the better paying positions.  This Plaintiff made repeated attempts to obtain transfers and promotions out of this department based on his qualifications, but he was repeatedly denied.
While not all Plaintiffs were victorious in their fight, this is the first of many trials to come for Turner Industries with respect to these claims.  This is a solid victory, especially considering that a jury from a historically-conservative area awarded far in excess of what these two Plaintiffs even requested in damages.  The jury sent a very loud message to Turner Industries with its verdict.  With over 260 cases remaining to be tried, the business of discriminating against hard working African-Americans may cost Turner Industries far more than they expected.  The battle continues.

Workers sue Baton Rouge company for discrimination

James Vagnini of Valli Kane and Vagnini
James Vagnini of Valli Kane and Vagnini

By Tyana Williams – bio | email
ver 200 African-American employees at Turner Industries in Baton Rouge say for years, they’ve been discriminated against and harassed while on the job.
According to lawyers for the employees, documents show last March, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found Turner Industries violated the rights of several black workers. Attorneys say they filed suit because the company failed to address the EEOC’s findings.
For two years, Turner employees say they’ve been keeping track of what they call discrimination and harassment at work.  Tuesday at a rally, attorney James Vagnini showed racially-charged photos he says came from those employees who work in Paris, Texas to Lake Charles, Louisiana and here in Baton Rouge.
“I have a woman standing behind me that came back to her workplace, her slick suit had been stuffed with plastic and they hung it from a noose and sprayed her name across front of it,” said Vagnini.
Vagnini filed the lawsuit in Texas on behalf of 230 Turner employees from Texas and Louisiana.
The 300 page lawsuit alleges black employees witnessed hangman’s nooses at work, faced segregation in the workplace and during the 2008 presidential election were told they could have November 5 off to go vote, even though the election was November 4.
The suit also alleges some workers were bussed to another plant for work, where a white supervisor separated them by race.  The suit says the supervisor hired the white workers and told the black employees to leave.
“I work hard all my life and I can say I know I didn’t deserve that,” said Ethel Jones.  Jones says she was one of 13 black workers told to leave.
She says several times she was told if the racial graffiti in the bathrooms offended her, paint over it.
“Draw pictures of black ladies and say this is a black woman with your legs spread open,” Jones said.
Vagnini says Turner owes its black employees more than an apology.  But he says now the court will decide.
“It is the sentiment this company has toward minorities and it must change,” Vagnini said.
In a written statement, Turner Industries denies it has unlawfully harassed or discriminated against employees because of race.  They say some workers named in the lawsuit have never or no longer work for the company.
Turner Industries released the following statement:
Turner Industries denies that it has unlawfully harassed or discriminated against any employees because of their race or any other criteria.
Roland Toups, Turner Industries’ Chairman and CEO stated, “Make no mistake, Turner Industries stands for diversity and inclusion for all. 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.
This suit was filed following a lengthy campaign by plaintiffs’ attorneys from New York and Texas to encourage individuals to file claims against the company.   Some of the individuals named in the suit have never worked for Turner Industries.  Most are no longer employed with the company.  Furthermore, many of the claimants who had filed charges raised claims during periods in which they were not even employed with the company.   Many have also returned to work for Turner Industries several times.   Records show that relatively few actually reported complaints of discrimination or harassment to the company.
Toups continued: “We have asked every Turner Industries employee to stay focused on safely performing their jobs. We also have asked them to support the company by making sure that our workplace is compliant with the company’s equal employment opportunity and anti-harassment policies. If there is a problem, we want to know about it so that it can be addressed.”
Last year, Turner Industries addressed racial claims arising at its Paris, Texas pipe fabrication facility.  Most of the named plaintiffs in the current lawsuit never worked in Paris.
Turner Industries intends to aggressively defend the allegations in this suit as well as its record of providing excellent employment opportunities for residents nation-wide.  We will remain committed to providing excellent jobs and employment opportunities for all qualified applicants without regard to race.   That will never change.
Original Article:

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.

[email protected]

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.

EEOC Investigates Racial Tension At Texas Company

At least 100 African American employees working at Tuner Industries in Paris, Texas, did so under hostile conditions, which included graffiti, nooses and symbols of hate, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has found.
The investigation is one of the largest civil rights investigations in the state’s history.
The three-page EEOC document dated March 31 is a small victory for the NAACP, civil rights leaders and attorneys of the plaintiffs, reports stated.
According to documents, the plaintiffs photographed images of swastikas, Confederate flags and nooses on welders’ helmets, cell phones and toolboxes at the company’s facility.
Turner manufactures oil pipeline products.
An attorney for the plaintiffs, Sara Kane, said some African-American employees who complained about the conditions, and white employees standing up against the racism have been terminated for doing so.
According to some of the plaintiffs, discrimination got worse when President Obama was elected.
John Fenner, corporate general counsel for Turner Industries issued a statement saying he was disappointed in what the EEOC found. Fenner said the company has a zero tolerance policy. He reported Turner Industries conducted an investigation during which they found no evidence of discrimination or retaliation.
The findings will allow the plaintiffs to file a lawsuit should they choose to.

Source: all_headline_news Reporter: Hansen Sinclair
Location: Dallas, TX, United States Published: April 14, 2010 1:59 p.m. EST
Topics: Manufacturing And Engineering, Racism, Industrial Component, Labor, Social Issue, Labor Dispute, Economy, Business And Finance

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.
E-mail [email protected]
Original Article:

Bio | Email | Follow: @jasonwhitely | Follow:

Posted on April 13, 2010 at 10:30 PM

EEOC cites local company

The Paris News
EEOC cites local company
By Mary Madewell
Published April 9, 2010
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission – Dallas District has cited Turner Industries Group for civil rights violations and has ordered a formal dispute resolution process.
The commission’s action, confirmed in a March 31 letter to Turner and to attorneys representing eight of the firm’s Paris employees, comes as a result of charges filed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
Attorney James Vagnini of New York said at a March 12, 2009, press conference that he had filed a class charge on behalf of Dontrail Mathis and Karl Mitchell and their coworkers. Named as charging parties in addition to Mathis and Mitchell are John Ellis, Ricky Fore Jr., Chris Hall, Stanrod Johnson, Nina Taylor and John Wilson III.
Turner Industries Group, in a statement released early today, denies the allegations.
“We are disappointed that the EEOC has issued this determination and strongly disagree with the EEOC’s findings,” the release states. “We welcome the opportunity to meet with the EEOC and are confident that meeting will demonstrate the Turner’s Paris, Texas facility is free from any form of discrimination, retaliation, or any other workplace conduct that violates the law.
“Our Paris, Texas facility is not, nor has it ever contained a hostile work environment,” the release states.
Michael Fetzer, director for the Dallas Equal Employment Opportunity Office, stated in the determination letter: “There is reasonable cause to believe that the respondent (Turner) discriminated against the charging parties and a class of similarly situated black employees … by subjecting them to a hostile work environment and disparate treatment.”
The determination letter also states there is “reasonable cause” to believe
Turner retaliated against some of the employees “because of their complaints about discrimination and opposition to practices believed to be unlawful and because of their participation in EEOC’s investigation.”
The letter also cited “reasonable cause” that Turner retaliated against “some other white employees because of their opposition to practices believed to be unlawful or because of their participation in EEOC’s investigation.”
But Turner said it has “extensively investigated the charges, and has determined that no worker nor class of workers was discriminated against based upon their race, or any other legally protected status.
“Furthermore, Turner management has determined that no worker nor class of workers was retaliated against for making complaints, for participating in investigations, or for any other reasons,” the release states.
During the EEOC investigation, the determination letter stated witnesses were interviewed and documents were reviewed.
“I have considered all the evidence disclosed during the investigation and find that there is reasonable cause to believe that Title VII violations occurred. Specifically, the evidence shows that on a regular basis the charging parties and a class of similarly situated black employees were subjected to unwelcome racial slurs, comments and intimidation, racial graffiti, nooses in the workplace and other symbols of discrimination,” Fetzer stated.
The EEOC director also stated some employees made complaints to the corporate office through a Hotline but the company failed to take effective remedial action. Fetzer said evidence indicates one of the employees, Fore, was terminated “after he repeatedly refused to make a statement against one of the charging parties.”
The determination letter further states that some employees were subjected to disparate treatment and because of their race “they were subjected to different terms and conditions of their employment than White employees, including but not limited to disparate job assignments, application of workplace rules and denial of promotional opportunities and other avenues of advancement.”
Turner denies all allegations.
“Turner Industries has a long-standing zero tolerance policy for any behavior in the workplace that disparages any employee,” the organization said. “We remain committed to maintaining a professional atmosphere that reinforces the company’s commitment to equality, fairness and tolerance.”
Copyright © 2010 The Paris News