A Phoenix-based moving company accused of "pervasive" racial harassment against a black employee will pay $54,000 to settle a lawsuit with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the EEOC announced on Tuesday.
Arizona Discount Movers will also write an apology letter and a positive letter of reference for its former employee, Clinton Lee, who said his supervisor made racist comments and gestures toward him that included using the N-word and discussing "Klan" meetings.
The EEOC's lawsuit, filed on Lee's behalf in June 2018, tells a story of a racist work environment that resulted in Lee's harassment "nearly every day of his employment" over the course of nine months in 2013 and 2014.
Lee's supervisor, Gary Carpenter, would begin morning staff meetings by raising the Nazi salute and saying "white power," the lawsuit said. It also claimed that Carpenter regularly used the N-word, and made other racist remarks, including, "if you're not white, you're not right."
When Lee picked up his paychecks, the lawsuit said, Carpenter would tell him, "get out of here, we're having a Klan meeting."
The lawsuit also describes more graphic threats the supervisor is accused of waging against Lee.
On one occasion, according to the lawsuit, Carpenter placed a horse jockey statue on his desk with a noose-like whip around the horse's neck, and labeled the statue "Clint."
Another time, it said, Carpenter spray-painted a troll doll black, hung it from a hook in full view of the office, and attached a sticky-note labeled "Clint King." Later, according to the EEOC, Carpenter pointed to the doll and said, "Hey Clint look! That's you!"
When Lee reported the troll doll to the company's owner, Amy Hannah, she told Lee to take it down himself "if he did not like it," the EEOC said.
The incessant harassment eventually led to Lee's resignation, according to EEOC regional attorney Mary Jo O'Neill. At that point, Lee reached out to the EEOC to file a charge of discrimination, and the agency conducted an investigation.
O'Neill says Lee and her team are satisfied with the settlement amount to Lee, $4,000 of which makes up for Lee's lost wages and $50,000 of which represents compensatory damages.
The company is also ordered to expunge negative documents from Lee's records, write an apology, write a letter of recommendation, and create workplace policies and training sessions to prevent such discrimination from happening again. Gary Carpenter left the company at some point — it's not clear when. But the company's not allowed to rehire him, according to the settlement agreement.
Through O'Neill, Lee declined to comment on the case. O'Neill said the ordeal has "traumatized him."
"He just never experienced this kind of conduct in a workplace before, and it really altered his view of the world, and altered his sense of safety at work," O'Neill said. "He was so shocked by this conduct. It is shocking conduct. But he's doing better."
Lee has tried to move the incidents behind him, and has gotten a new job, O'Neill said.
EEOC District Director Elizabeth Cadle said in a statement that workplace harassment against black people is disproportionately high in Arizona.
“Unfortunately, a disturbingly large number of the charges that we receive in Arizona involve discrimination like this against African Americans, despite the fact that African-Americans make up only 4.1% of the population in Arizona,” she said.
Arizona Discount Movers is still in business in Phoenix. It offered no comment on the allegations or the settlement.
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