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- Construction giant Whiting-Turner has agreed to pay $1.2 million to settle a racial harassment and retaliation suit for incidents that allegedly occurred at a $600 million Google data center project in Clarksville, Tennessee, according to a release from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
- The EEOC sued Baltimore-based Whiting-Turner, the sixth largest contractor in the country, for subjecting Black employees to a racially hostile work environment where it segregated employees into all-Black work crews headed by White supervisors and retaliated against two workers after they complained.
- A White supervisor allegedly referred to Black employees as “boy” “m—-f—–” and “you,” and routinely told them to “get ya Black asses back to work,” according to the lawsuit. Multiple portable bathrooms and buildings on the jobsite were defaced with racially offensive graffiti, the suit said, while a noose was displayed in the workplace on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. When two Black employees complained publicly during a team meeting about how Black workers were treated at the site, they were fired the same day, the suit alleged.
In a statement to Construction Dive, Tim Regan, president and CEO of Whiting-Turner said the firm was pleased to resolve the suit but made a point to say the settlement didn’t indicate an admission of guilt on the company’s part.
“Whiting-Turner has denied liability or wrongdoing from the beginning of this case and we are proud of our efforts to combat discrimination and to promote diversity and inclusion within the company and on our jobsites,” Regan said. “While there was no credible evidence that any Whiting-Turner employees were involved in the actions alleged, a monetary settlement was reached in order to avoid the cost and expense of a protracted trial.”
EEOC said the incidents portrayed in the suit stood out as a stark illustration of discrimination in the construction sector.
“The allegations in the Whiting-Turner matter are a prime example of the urgent need for the EEOC’s ongoing efforts to eliminate racism in the construction industry,” said EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows in the release. “Unfortunately, the shocking findings of the EEOC’s investigation in this case are not an isolated occurrence in the industry.”
Beyond the $1.2 million Whiting-Turner agreed to pay to the group of former Black workers, the settlement also calls for the company to incorporate a strict prohibition against racial graffiti, racial jokes, racial slurs, racial epithets and hate symbols into its anti-harassment policy while assigning an equal employment opportunity liaison to each of its construction sites.
The firm must also conduct semi-annual training with its employees on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, sex and other protected classes.
“Construction companies must take immediate steps to combat race discrimination on worksites,” said Roslyn Griffin Pack, EEOC trial attorney, in the release. “That action includes making sure its managers and supervisors are trained on Title VII and take prompt action at the first sign of trouble.”
In May 2022, the EEOC held a hearing to examine charges of discrimination against people of color and women in the construction industry, citing the amount of federal dollars flowing into the sector from the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
Since then, the agency has re-written its Strategic Enforcement Plan to hone in specifically on violators within the construction industry while filing multiple suits against construction companies. The issue has gained enough attention that industry lawyers routinely advise construction clients on how to steer clear of triggering the agency’s ire, both in contracts and via day-to-day conduct on construction sites.
The industry has been working to shed its White-guys-only reputation in a bid to attract more workers. For instance, in 2021, six industry stalwarts including Turner Construction, Mortenson and Gilbane, launched the Construction Inclusion Week initiative in order to combat discrimination on jobsites after a slew of racist incidents at projects gained national attention in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.
Whiting-Turner Contracting Company recently settled a lawsuit with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for $1.2 million. The EEOC filed the suit against Whiting-Turner, alleging the company discriminated against 1,200 past and current female employees at its offices and construction sites throughout Maryland, Virginia and Washington D.C. The company also agreed to provide all eligible current and former female employees, an estimated 2,600 in all, with backpay, interest and other benefits as part of the settlement.
According to the EEOC, Whiting-Turner had created an inherently unequal work environment through the use of “offensive and inappropriate conduct,” which included gender-based slurs and other verbal and physical harassment. This harassment created an intimidating, hostile, and offensive work environment for female employees, in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Further, Whiting-Turner is accused of denying females equal opportunities in training, advancement, promotion and career opportunities and paying them lower wages than their male counterparts.
The settlement agreement forces Whiting-Turner to create a comprehensive anti-discrimination policy and to bring its human resources practices in compliance with civil rights laws. The company is also required to conduct specialized education and training programs for all directors, managers, supervisors and employees at the locations in question.
The settlement marks a victory for the EEOC and advocates of civil rights and gender equity, who believe that companies should be held accountable for unequal and discriminatory practices. This settlement should send a strong message to employers all over the country that discriminatory practices cannot be tolerated in the workplace, and that those responsible will be called on to answer for their actions.
To conclude, this settlement serves as an encouraging step forward in the fight against workplace discrimination, showing companies across the nation that employment laws will be enforced, and that a strictly equitable workplace is required.