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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.
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