Isiah Washington, a 27 year old African American factory worker, claims he was fired in retaliation after he reported what can only be described as an inappropriate action taken in the workplace: racist co-workers hung a Ku Klux Klan “hood” in his workstation. This alleged act of racial discrimination also constituted a hostile work environment for the former employee of Sierra Aluminum Company in Riverside, California. As a result of the occurrence last April, Isiah filed a racial discrimination suit against the company.
Washington claims that the “hood” was clearly a symbol of the KKK, one of the most violent and ruthless organization in the history of the country. He also claims that when it was reported, the company not only didn’t respond, but they didn’t even pretend to take it seriously, even though Washington noted that this particular incident was the final move in a months long campaign of discrimination. He stated that he was scared and felt very threatened in the situation. When he asked his supervisor to “please take it down” the supervisor blew Washington off. He states that the supervisor started talking to other employees and that they all began laughing. Washington remembers that he was scared for his life and “everyone was laughing” (including his supervisor to which Washington had just reported he incident). Washington claims in the lawsuit that the offensive (and terrifying) white sheet remained above his workstation for another hour while he continued his work. He clarifies that he did not see it as a prank or a joke, but as an intimidation technique – a threat.
Washington filed a complaint with the company’s HR department about the incident. It was ignored. The firm actually claimed that the “sheet” must have been blown in with a gust of wind. Seeing the action as a threat that wasn’t addressed in any way by the company, Washington alleges he had to continuously watch his back on the job – resulting in extreme emotional distress, fear and even anxiety. From that day on, Washington had to put up with derogatory comments from his co-workers.
At Washington’s request, the company agreed to move him to a different shift, but he ran into trouble again a few months later. After accidentally cutting his thumb on some aluminum, Washington covered the cut with a band-aid. On the following day, his supervisor questioned him about the incident – wondering why he had accessed the First Aid box on site. He replied and advised his supervisor that he was fine at which point the supervisor insisted that Washington visit the company driver and that he allow someone to drive him. Wary because of the recent negative activity in the workplace, Washington declined the ride to the doctor and advised the supervisor he could drive himself. The supervisor became angry and advised Washington he could no longer go to the company doctor. He went anyway and received clearance to work. When he returned to work the next day, he was fired. The reason he was offered for his termination was that he did not follow company policy.
Washington feels that the company obviously used this situation as an excuse so they could fire him, which could be referred to as wrongful termination.
If you have concerns about discrimination in the workplace, workplace retaliation or wrongful termination, please contact the experienced southern California employment law attorneys with your questions at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.