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African-American Staffers Collect $5.3 Million after Effigy of Black Worker Hung from Ceiling

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” with supervisors.

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.

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