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Employees sue UPS for discrimination citing slurs, nooses in warehouse

  Image: Facebook/UPS
Image: Facebook/UPS

United Parcel Service (NYSE: UPS) is being sued by 19 employees at an Ohio distribution center who allege the company fostered a “racially hostile work environment.”

The lawsuit, filed in the Lucas County Court of Common Pleas on March 13, accuses UPS and five specific supervisors of “enabling and tolerating” a racist culture in the Maumee facility.

“The Defendants have maintained a hostile work environment through these employment decisions, as well as by tolerating, and failing to remedy known racist comments and conduct,” the lawsuit claims. “They have promoted and tolerated an atmosphere of racism in which individual employees feel free to display overt racial biases through conduct.”

The lawsuit calls for compensatory damages exceeding $25,000, legal fees and an undetermined amount of punitive damages for the plaintiffs who say they experienced incidents of apparent racism from white co-workers and supervisors.

In July 2016, a defendant reportedly hung nooses above the workstation of an African-American employee, after which the defendant was fired, but the plaintiff was allegedly told not to discuss or photograph the incident.

 Just days after the noose incident, another African-American employee reports receiving text messages from white co-workers in a group chat referencing potential lottery winnings, asking “can we buy another noose with the winnings,” and “If you feel down and out, the noose is loose,” but no disciplinary action was taken when the issue was taken to management.  

In September of the same year, an employee was fired after referring to a minority  neighborhood as “N—–ville” and refusing to deliver a package, but was reinstated to her position almost immediately, according to the suit.  

Other incidents in the lawsuit include:

– A slur written in bathroom graffiti

– Employees using racial slurs toward and in the presence of African-American employees

– Talking about attending a Ku Klux Klan meeting and buying rope to “hang ‘em high”

– Displaying a cellphone video hangman game with an African-American effigy

– Posing a large monkey doll dressed as a UPS employee at the top of a ladder near the work stations of African-American employees.

In an email to FreightWaves, a spokesperson for UPS said the company took appropriate disciplinary action when made aware of the reported incidents.

“UPS promptly investigated and took swift disciplinary action against those found to have engaged in inappropriate actions, including the discharge of two employees,” the company’s statement said. “Since that time, the company has participated in remedial actions in cooperation with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission so that employees are trained and our operations are monitored to ensure we maintain a positive work environment, free of harassment.”

The accusations come just months after UPS pledged more than $10 million toward promoting diversity across the company and shipping industry.

“The behavior reported is abhorrent and in conflict with our values and culture at UPS. The company has strict policies against harassment and discrimination,” the spokesman continued.  “Diversity and inclusion are core values at UPS – a diverse and inclusive work environment helps our employees feel safe and valued every day, spurs innovation and new ideas, and reflects the diversity of the global community served by our company. When an incident is reported, UPS takes the matter seriously, thoroughly investigates and takes appropriate disciplinary action against those found responsible for misconduct. We will not comment further on the specific details of the new lawsuit presented this week as we are reviewing the claims relative to the original facts revealed in 2016.”

According to the lawsuit, UPS’ company-wide stance on diversity was not reflected in the experiences of the plaintiffs.

“The paper promises of UPS to be an equal opportunity employer with zero tolerance of racist comments or conduct are, in practice, merely empty promises,” the suit says. “African-American employees come to work each day not knowing whether a racist comment or conduct will confront them, being concerned that smirking or laughing white employees are ridiculing them because of their race, and walking on eggshells to avoid triggering a problem. All of this takes an emotional toll on them that non-minority employees do not confront.”

In 2017, after 25 related complaints, the Ohio Civil Rights Commission determined there was “probable cause” to substantiate claims of racial discrimination and retaliation at the facility, but filed no charges against UPS.