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Black workers in Ohio accuse UPS of allowing hate at work

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Nineteen UPS workers are suing the parcel distributor, saying they suffered repeated racial discrimination and the company did nothing to stop it. CNN's Sara Sidner reports.

Posted: Mar. 14, 2019 6:10 AM
Updated: Mar. 14, 2019 6:10 AM

Nineteen UPS workers are suing the parcel distributor, saying they suffered repeated racial discrimination and the company did nothing to stop it.

Managers and supervisors enabled and even encouraged the hate at the distribution center in Maumee, Ohio, according to the lawsuit filed Wednesday afternoon in Lucas County Court in Ohio.

The workers claim nooses were hung above the workstation of an African-American employee, that a monkey doll dressed as a UPS employee was placed near others and the N-word was frequently used.

The workers, many of whom have been at the company for more than two decades, argue the racist comments caused reactions ranging from "fear, anger and disgust to dismay" about the comments and lack of action from the company.

"UPS promptly investigated and took swift disciplinary action against those found to have engaged in inappropriate actions, including the discharge of two employees," UPS Director of Corporate Media Relations Glenn Zaccara told CNN when asked for comment about the lawsuit.

Zaccara said that since then, the company has participated in "remedial actions" in cooperation with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission to ensure employees are trained and has also monitored its operations to ensure a positive and harassment-free environment.

"The company has strict policies against harassment and discrimination," Zaccara said. "When an incident is reported, UPS takes the matter seriously, thoroughly investigates and takes appropriate disciplinary action against those found responsible for misconduct."

The lawsuit details a variety of incidents in the UPS distribution center during the workers' years there.

One worker says a group text message from white coworkers about possible lottery winnings in July 2016 contained "racially driven" and "offensive" messages, according to the lawsuit, including: "If you feel down and out, the noose is loose;" "Can we buy another noose with the winnings," and "Like Clint Eastwood said, 'Hang 'em High.'"

Lawyers say in the lawsuit the incident was reported to management, but no disciplinary measures were taken. The white coworkers maintained it was a joke, according to the lawsuit.

In September 2016, "a white employee of UPS stated: 'I'm late for a Klan meeting,'" according to the suit. Again, no action was taken, lawyers claim. The comment was made in front of one black coworker and one white coworker, according to the suit.

Lawyers also say a white driver for UPS refused to deliver a package in September 2016 because "she did not want to deliver to 'Niggerville' or go to 'Nigger City,'" according to the lawsuit.

The workers also accuse the company of denying black workers opportunities within the company on the basis of their race.

"African-American employees are disproportionately employed by UPS in lower paying, strenuous, menial, part-time, or seasonal positions and systematically denied opportunities for higher paying, full-time, and supervisory positions," lawyers argue in the lawsuit.

This creates an environment uncomfortable and unsuitable for black workers, according to lawyers, and is all an example of how the company has failed them.

"The paper promises of UPS to be an equal opportunity employer with zero tolerance of racist comments or conduct are, in practice, merely empty promises," lawyers for the workers say in the complaint. "African-American employees come to work each day not knowing whether a racist comment or conduct will confront them, being concerned that smirking or laughing white employees are ridiculing them because of their race, and walking on eggshells to avoid triggering a problem."

Lawyers are asking a judge to award each worker at least $25,000 in damages, relief to address the company's "pattern and practice of discrimination" as well as legal costs.

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