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PRESS RELEASE
8-27-12

EEOC Obtains $2.75 Million from WRS Compass for Victims of Race Harassment at Clean-Up Site

Federal  Agency Said Company Subjected Black Workers to Nooses and Other Abuse; White Workers  Who Associated With Blacks Were Also Harassed

CHICAGO - A  Tampa-based environmental  clean-up company has agreed to pay $2.75 million and enter into a three-year  nationwide consent decree to resolve a race discrimination case brought the  U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced  today. 

The EEOC's suit  charged that WRS Environment and Infrastructure, Inc. (d/b/a WRS Compass) subjected  seven black workers at its Lake Calumet, Ill., site to a racially hostile work  environment, discriminatory terms and conditions of employment, and unlawfully  retaliated against employees who complained about discrimination.  The alleged harassment against African-American  employees included multiple hangman's nooses, repeated use of the "N-word,"  less favorable equipment assignments and physical threats from coworkers.  When two of the black workers complained  about this campaign of harassment, they were laid off, the EEOC said. 

The EEOC also  charged that WRS created a hostile work environment for four white workers who  associated with African-American employees.   A foreman at the Lake Calumet site allegedly called one of these white  employees "n----r lover" and another white employee a "coon lover."  In addition to using racially offensive  language, this foreman and other white coworkers physically threatened the four  white plaintiffs in this case.

Such alleged  conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  The EEOC filed suit (No. 09-cv-4272 [N.D.  Ill.]) in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois after first  attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation  process.

WRS had moved  unsuccessfully to dismiss the entire case.   The court rejected the majority of WRS's motion and preserved most of the  EEOC's claims, writing, "It is  undisputed that WRS did not provide any harassment training to employees  (whether union or management) at the Lake Calumet site and did not give its  employees a phone number to contact the company's health and safety officer or  human resources department."  The court  also noted that "WRS did not post its non-discrimination / harassment policy  at the Lake Calumet site until the day after the noose appeared on [a] truck."  While the EEOC's claims of racial association  harassment were dismissed on summary judgment, the three-year consent decree  prohibits racial association harassment and requires training and reporting on  harassment because of racial association. 

Besides the $2.75 in monetary  relief for the 11 victims, the three-year nationwide consent decree resolving  this case, signed by Judge Virginia M. Kendall, includes injunctions against  race discrimination and harassment (including associational race  discrimination) and retaliation.  WRS is  also required to revise its anti-discrimination policy and conduct training on  the policy.  Furthermore, WRS must  develop a policy on how to investigate complaints of discrimination or  harassment and evaluate its supervisors on their compliance with the company's  revised anti-discrimination policy.  The  decree requires WRS to report all complaints of discrimination to the EEOC on a  semi-annual basis and provides a mechanism for the parties to seek assistance  from the court in the event of any disputes about whether WRS violated the  injunctions against discrimination and retaliation.

"This settlement reinforces the  agency's commitment to root out racial hostility where it persists in the  modern workplace," said EEOC General Counsel P. David Lopez.  "The EEOC has successfully prosecuted several racial  harassment cases and will continue to do so until this toxic workplace  behavior is eradicated."

John Hendrickson, the EEOC's regional  attorney in Chicago said that this case was set for trial in a matter of days  when the parties reached agreement on the consent decree.  The EEOC was prepared to present extensive testimony  about hangman's nooses, racist language, and other threatening conduct.

"The EEOC takes racial threats and  intimidation in the workplace very seriously and will take actions against  employers who permit employees to be harassed because of race or because of  racial association," Hendrickson said. 

In addition to Hendrickson, EEOC  was represented by Supervisory Trial Attorney Gregory Gochanour and Trial  Attorneys Richard Mrizek, Brandi Davis, and Grayson S. Walker, all from the  Chicago District Office.  The intervening  plaintiffs were represented by Robinson Curley & Clayton, P.C. in Chicago.

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 agency is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.