BATON ROUGE, La — About 230 current and former employees at a Louisiana-based oil services company have filed a civil rights lawsuit, saying they were forced to work in facilities where racist graffiti, slurs and discrimination are commonplace.
The lawsuit was filed this week in a Texas federal court against Turner Industries Group LLC, which is headquartered in Baton Rouge and has denied any harrassment or discrimination.
Black workers said Tuesday that they’ve complained for more than a decade about nooses hung in workplaces, racial slurs, segregated bathrooms and unequal treatment in Turner facilities in Louisiana and Texas. They said company supervisors and officials did little or nothing about the complaints and, in some instances, retaliated against the black employees for complaining.
Yvonne Turner, who said she has worked for the company at sites in both states, described showing up at a Sulphur, La., work site where a protective suit was stuffed, tagged with her name and hung from a noose. She said a supervisor laughed when told about it.
“I’m fed up. I’m tired,” she said after a news conference held with local civil rights leaders. “We’re not here trying to get money. We’re not here trying to cause trouble. We’re here for justice.”
Another woman, Cheryl Falola, described traveling to a work location where employees were separated by race and the black employees were sent home and replaced with white workers. She said at a different site she was repeatedly harassed by a white man who was working with her.
“Every day I would go to work he would throw racial slurs,” Falola said. “My stomach was hurting and knotting up because I know I have to work with that every day.”
In a statement, Turner said many of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit no longer work for Turner and some never worked for the company.
The company blamed a “lengthy campaign by plaintiffs’ attorneys in New York and Texas” for the lawsuit and said its records show few of those participating in the lawsuit ever reported discrimination complaints to the company.
“Make no mistake, Turner Industries stands for diversity and inclusion for all. Our record supports that. We intend to defend our company and the jobs of our 15,000 employees who are employed in various divisions of the company,” Roland Toups, Turner Industries’ chairman and CEO, said in the statement.
In April 2010, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that black workers at the Turner Industries plant in Paris, Texas, were taunted with slurs, intimidation tactics and symbols of discrimination and were given lower-paying jobs and denied promotions. The EEOC said Turner managers were aware of the hostile work environment but didn’t make changes.
At the time, Turner issued a statement saying it disagreed with the findings and its own investigation didn’t find discrimination. Toups said the company has asked employees to make sure its facilities are compliant with anti-harassment policies.
“If there is a problem, we want to know about it so that it can be addressed,” he said.
James Vagnini, one of the lawyers representing the workers, said the lawsuit was filed because Turner did nothing to address the EEOC findings.
“Just three weeks ago, more nooses are up,” Vagnini said.
He said after the EEOC report, he received hundreds of complaints from current and former Turner employees who had worked in Turner facilities in Port Allen, Sulphur and Monroe, La., and in Paris and Beaumont, Texas.
At Tuesday’s news conference, lawyers for the workers handed out photos that showed racial epithets and swastikas scrawled on desks and bathroom walls and three nooses hung at what they said were different Turner job sites.
The lawsuit says black employees were forced to do dangerous tasks that white workers refused to perform and were passed over for better jobs in favor of white employees. The lawsuit says the discrimination grew worse after President Obama was elected.
The lawsuit was filed in the Eastern District federal court in Texas.