$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.