African-American Staffers Collect $5.3 Million after Effigy of Black Worker
Hung from Ceiling
Managers claim that figure was a safety training prop
Is racism still alive and well in the American workplace?
If the outcome of a recent trial is any indication, the answer is yes.
A jury found UPS guilty of a creating a racially hostile work environment
after an effigy of a black UPS worker hung in an office for more than
four days. Now the company must pay $5.3 million to the eight African-American
workers who sued the company after the incident.
You may be wondering how something like this could happen in this day and
age. Let’s take a look at the details to examine how some supposedly
innocent actions by company managers ended up sending a very disturbing message.
Shocking start to day
William Barber says he got an unwelcome surprise when he arrived at work
on August 9, 2012. He reported for his 3 AM shift at a UPS facility, only
to find what appeared to be an effigy of a black UPS worker hanging from
the office ceiling.
The figure was dressed in a UPS uniform. Brown fabric was used to create
the head, which was then topped by a UPS cap. The arms and legs were tied
to a stepladder that was positioned in front of the figure.
According to a
report in local newspaper, Barber stated, “I wear the brown suit. I wear
the brown cap. I got the brown face. For me to come in at 3 o’clock
in the morning and see that, it wasn’t a good feeling. It hurt me
real bad. My white friends came to me and told me, ‘I’m sorry
you had to look at that.’”
The effigy hung in the office for four days until it was removed.
However, according to the lawsuit that Barber and seven other African American
staffers filed against UPS, this incident was not the first time they
felt discriminated against. They claimed that managers used terms such
as “jungle bunny,” “porch monkey,” and the n-word.
Jobs on the line
The employees stated that they were retaliated against after complaining
to human resources about discriminatory treatment. They alleged that management
subjected them to tighter scrutiny than their white counterparts. For
example, they were required to do extensive “ride-alongs”
The hanging figure, they stated, felt like a method of intimidation.
The company tells a very different story. It claims that managers created
the figure to illustrate a safety procedure that workers were supposed
to use when climbing ladders. However, the ladder was eventually removed,
while the figure remained.
Of the eight African-American employees and former employees involved in
the lawsuit, two were fired, and two claim that they were constructively
discharged (i.e., forced to quit).
Ultimately, though, the jury sided with the workers. The men were awarded
$5.3 million in damages.
(The case discussed here is
Barber v. UPS.)
What it means to you
If you believe that you’ve been discriminated against because of
your race or your national origin, it’s a good idea to speak to
an attorney so you can find out about your rights.
Call or email us today to discuss your unique situation.