A new lawsuit accused a California transit authority of punishing Black bus drivers who stand up for themselves against racist passengers. This comes against the backdrop of a high-profile firing of a Black Home Depot employee who was terminated under similar circumstances.
Keith Polee sued the Central Contra Costa Transit Authority Tuesday for firing him after a passenger shouted racist slurs and threatened to kill him, the East Bay Times reported.
The federal discrimination lawsuit alleges that transit officials failed to investigate the incident but terminated Polee for his conduct. It also accused authorities of routinely ignoring numerous incidents in which riders used racially hostile language toward Black drivers. Making matters worse, transit officials disproportionately discipline Black drivers and retaliate against those who file grievances, according to the suit.
Polee first encountered the passenger around February 2017. The man, who was a known among Black drivers as a racist, hopped onto Polee’s bus and loudly sang a song that included racial slurs.
A second incident happened in September 2017 involving the same passenger. Polee asked him not to repeat what happened months earlier. But halfway to the man’s destination, he yelled racist statements and verbally abused a female passenger. The driver pulled the bus over and called his supervisor to ask him to contact the police. As Polee walked the man off the bus, the racist passenger threatened to kill him.
After complaints to his supervisors went nowhere, Polee filed administrative actions against the transit authority with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission and the Department of Fair Employment and Education. The agencies later gave approval for him to file a lawsuit.
In October, the transit authority blamed Polee in a termination notice for mismanaging the situation.
Home Depot found itself on the receiving end of a similar lawsuit in August, as well as an avalanche of negative public relations, for firing Maurice Rucker, a 66-year-old employee who worked 10 years for the megastore.
Rucker’s suit stemmed from a July 12 incident, while Rucker was working in the garden center of an Albany, New York store. Rucker asked a white customer with a dog to leash his pet while in the store. The man refused and fired off a racist tirade. Rucker verbally defended himself, but Home Depot terminated him for not following protocol.
Meanwhile, the transit authority declined to speak on the record with the newspaper about the lawsuit. It has paid more than $400,000 for four claims of harassment, discrimination or wrongful termination over the past decade, according to the Times.