Agency Says Black Employees at Trucking Giant Were Subjected to Nooses, Racist Graffiti, Racial Epithets, Harsher Discipline, and Tougher Work Assignments
CHICAGO – The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed suit late yesterday against YRC, Inc., alleging that it subjected black employees at its Chicago Ridge, Ill., facility to a racially hostile working environment. The suit also names Yellow Transportation, which operated the facility until its merger with Roadway Express, which resulted in the combination of the companies under the YRC, Inc. name in October 2008. YRC, Inc. is now the nation’s largest less-than-truckload freight hauling company and is headquartered in Overland Park, Kan.
According to the EEOC’s complaint, since at least 2004, black employees at the Chicago Ridge facility were subjected to hangman’s nooses, racist graffiti and racist comments. During this time, the complaint also alleges, YRC subjected black employees to harsher discipline and scrutiny than their white counterparts, and gave more difficult and time-consuming work assignments to black employees than white employees. According to the EEOC, its administrative investigation which preceded the lawsuit revealed that black employees made numerous complaints about discriminatory working conditions over the years, but YRC failed to take effective action to correct the problems.
Race discrimination violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC will seek relief for over 200 African American employees who worked at Chicago Ridge from 2004 to the present. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, EEOC v. Yellow Transportation, Inc. and YRC, Inc. No. 09 CV 7693, assigned to District Judge James F. Holderman and Magistrate Judge Susan E. Cox, after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement through its statutory conciliation process.
The lawsuit is the third of three lawsuits brought by EEOC challenging alleged race discrimination at Roadway, Yellow, or YRC. Since 2006, the EEOC has been pursuing litigation against YRC, Inc as the result of discriminatory treatment of black employees at YRC’s (formerly Roadway Express’s) facilities in Chicago Heights (N.D. Ill. No. 06 C 4805) and Elk Grove Village, Ill. (N.D. Ill. No. 08 C 5555). Those two lawsuits, which are pending before U.S. Magistrate Judge Cox in federal court in Chicago, also charge a pattern of misconduct through the displaying of nooses and racist graffiti, as well as unequal treatment in discipline and work assignments. The EEOC represents more than 150 employees at those two facilities.
“In this economy, many employers—including trucking and transportation companies such as YRC—are facing choices about how to allocate resources,” said EEOC Chicago District Regional Attorney John Hendrickson. “But the allegations here predate the recent downturn. This suit, and those involving the Chicago Heights and Elk Grove facilities, should remind all employers that federal laws barring employment discrimination are not put on hold during recessions, and that no employer should think that ignoring and failing to remedy on-the-job harassment can somehow be excused as a cost-saving measure.”
John Rowe, district director of the EEOC’s Chicago District Office, oversaw the investigation of the charges of discrimination at Chicago Ridge underlying the lawsuit. According to Rowe, “The alleged discrimination uncovered in this case—the nooses, racist slurs and graffiti—show that systemic race discrimination continues to be a serious problem which requires EEOC intervention. That’s our job, and when we see business being conducted in this way, we cannot look the other way.”
EEOC Trial Attorney Richard Mrizek added, “We do not believe that the harsh discipline and difficult work assignments received by black employees at YRC were the product of chance or happenstance. We expect to show that the black employees received more difficult work assignments and harsher discipline for the same reason they were subjected to a hostile work environment. That reason, EEOC contends, is racial bias, and in the workplace that violates federal law.”
In addition to Hendrickson, Supervisory Trial Attorney Gregory Gochanour and Trial Attorneys Mrizek, Ethan Cohen, and Deborah Hamilton will staff the EEOC litigation team. The EEOC Chicago District Office is responsible for processing charges of discrimination, administrative enforcement, and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and North and South Dakota, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the Commission is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.