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Racial insensitivity and nooses in the Bay Area

By Charlene Muhammad -National Correspondent- | Last updated: Dec 5, 2014 - 10:44:29 AM

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Black employees charge company with negligence in dealing with workplace racial harassment

SAN FRANCISCO - Daryle Washington, a Black sanitation worker, has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against an employee-owned sanitation company for racial harassment and employment-based race discrimination after witnessing a White worker place a noose on a co-worker’s belongings.

Mr. Washington indicates in his lawsuit filed Nov. 18 he has suffered from insomnia and emotional distress since the incident occurred nearly a year ago on Dec. 10. He alleged his employers were negligent in failing to prevent the harassment.

“Just being one of five who actually witnessed what had happened, we couldn’t believe what we saw,” he said.

“I had real issues. I was like, ‘Hold on!’ I wanted to do something to somebody. Just the whole concept of dealing with the noose, and I had family that have been lynched from nooses down in the South,” Mr. Washington told The Final Call.

According to Mr. Washington, a White co-worker allegedly picked up a noose that was traveling down an assembly line, tightened it as if he was putting it on someone’s neck, walked over to another Black employee’s area, and laid it on his backpack.

That employee downplayed the actions, Mr. Washington said. However, he filed a complaint with his immediate supervisor, who allegedly told him such incidents occurred often and not to get his hopes up. He said the next day he received a call from a human resources manager, who affirmed the act was unacceptable and that the perpetrator “needs to go.”

According to Mr. Washington, the company promised to work diligently to resolve the situation, but didn’t. They suspended the worker but, not for long.

“Six working days later, this White co-worker is right back at work. Of course, I’m a little upset, not understanding what’s going on,” he said.

He again complained but to no avail. “I’d been having issues with having him here, and I don’t know if I could work around this man after what he did,” Mr. Washington told The Final Call.

Eric Potashner, a spokesperson for Recology, denied The Final Call’s request for an interview or statement on the allegations. “Due to the fact that it’s a pending litigation, we’re not really allowed to comment at this time. … Our policy is not to comment on pending litigation to the press,” he said.

Eventually, Mr. Washington left work on stress leave, as well as medical leave for an injury. In the meantime, from Dec. 19 through April 29, he continued appealing to his supervisors for clearance to go see the company physician to talk about his issues, but they refused, he stated.

As his stress and anxiety grew, Mr. Washington said he paid out of his own pocket to seek help. Only then did Recology authorize him to see a company doctor, he said.

Since the incident, he reflects often about his own family’s history with lynchings.

“My aunt was part of a group that used to drive around to hangings and lynchings, and survivors would still be alive. They would cut the rope, bring the brothers and sisters down, and nurse them back to health sometimes,” Mr. Washington said. “They would wait until the lynching party would leave, and literally cut our people down from trees,” he added. 

His attorney Stanley Goff, civil rights and criminal defense attorney, said the case represents another situation where Blacks make up the minority in a workforce where neither White management, nor employees  want them.

“They’re trying to figure out ways to remove them systematically from a management perspective and just harassing them from a co-employee perspective,” he said.

Atty. Goff said he found the behavior of an employee who happened to be White, playing racial jokes, to be highly offensive. He argues Recology should have fired the employee, and Mr. Washington nor the other Black workers should have been subjected to his behavior, then made to endure his presence afterward.

“We’re supposed to be society, at least now, in 2014 in which people are treated equally and treated with mutual levels of respect, and that clearly showed me, as being African-American, that there are still some companies that are behind the curve. … Maybe it was tolerable and acceptable in the 50s and 40s, but it’s certainly not acceptable in 2014, and we’re not putting up with it,” Atty. Goff stated. “I want people to know this stuff is still going on, nooses at the workplace and White employees playing these really sick, racists type of jokes like it’s funny. … It’s not a joke.  It was a very preferred way of exterminating us or executing us in droves, especially in the South, and people should exercise way more sensitivity regarding that type of stuff,” he added.

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