$200,000 Award in Race Discrimination and Retaliation Lawsuit Against Trucking Company

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

In a legal victory for the U.S. Equal Employmen Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a North Carolina federal jury has awarded  compensatory and punitive damages against A.C. Widenhouse, Inc., a Concord,  N.C.-based trucking company. 

On Jan. 28, the  Winston-Salem jury of eight returned a unanimous verdict finding that Contonius  Gill and Robert Floyd, Jr., former Widenhouse employees, were discriminated  against based on their race, African-American.   The jury also found that Gill was fired in retaliation for complaining  about racial harassment at Widenhouse. The jury awarded a total of $200,000 in compensatory and punitive  damages to the men.  The court will now  decide back pay damages for Gill and injunctive relief.

According to the  EEOC's lawsuit, Gill and Floyd worked as truck drivers for the company.  From as early as May 2007 through at least  June 2008, Gill was repeatedly subjected to unwelcome  derogatory racial comments and slurs by the  facility's general manager, who was also his supervisor; the company's  dispatcher; several mechanics; and other truck drivers, all of whom are white.  The comments and slurs included "n----r,"  "monkey" and "boy."  Gill testified that  on one occasion he was approached by a co-worker with a noose and was told,  "This is for you.  Do you want to hang  from the family tree?"  Gill further  testified that he was asked by white employees if he wanted to be the "coon" in  their "coon hunt." 

Floyd testified that he also  was subjected to repeated derogatory racial comments and slurs by the company's  general manager and white employees.   Floyd testified that when he was hired in 2005, he was the only  African-American working at the company.   Floyd said the company's general manager told him that he was the  company's "token black."  Floyd testified  that on another occasion the general manager told him, "Don't find a noose with  your name on it," and talked about having some of his "friends" visit Floyd in  the middle of the night.   Gill repeatedly complained about racial harassment to the  company's dispatcher and general manager and Floyd complained to an owner of  Widenhouse, but both men testified that the harassment continued.  

Gill intervened  in the lawsuit and in addition to the EEOC's claim of racial harassment, Gill  said Widenhouse fired him based on his race and in retaliation for complaining  about the racial harassment.  The jury  also returned a verdict in favor of Gill on both of his discriminatory  discharge claims.

Race discrimination,  including racial harassment, and retaliation for complaining about it, violate Title  VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  The  EEOC filed suit (Equal Employment Opportunity  Commission v. A.C. Widenhouse, Inc., 1:11-cv-00498), in U.S. District Court for  the Middle District of North Carolina after first attempting to reach voluntary  settlement through its conciliation process.

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