View Full Version : 'Whites only' sign at Tyson poultry plant stirs a suit

08-19-2005, 11:33 PM


August 19, 2005

WASHINGTON - The way African-American workers tell it in the lawsuit filed last week, the "Whites Only" sign was posted on the door of the freshly renovated bathroom at Tyson's poultry plant in Ashland, Ala. Only white employees had the keys.

After some complaints, the sign was removed, but the bathroom was kept locked, and the refrigerator and cabinets in a new employee lounge were padlocked. Only white workers had keys.

"When I was young, my mother used to tell me stories about segregated bathrooms," Henry Adams, a plaintiff in the suit, wrote in a statement. "I never thought that her reality of 71 years ago would become my reality today."

Adams and 12 other African-American workers at the plant filed a discrimination suit last week against Tyson Foods Inc., the world's largest meat producer.

The regional office of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is also suing Tyson for violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits workplace discrimination. The nonpartisan Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law also stepped in on the workers' behalf.

"While this country has made great strides in addressing issues of racism, unfortunately, there are still people who have not yet gotten the message that segregation in the workplace will not be tolerated," Bernice Williams-Kimbrough, district director of EEOC's Birmingham office, wrote in a statement.

Tyson officials said they investigated the allegations and found they have no merit.

"We're surprised and disappointed by this legal action," Gary Mickelson, a spokesman for the Arkansas-based company, wrote in a statement. "The presence of any sign suggesting whites only or segregation of any kind is, without a doubt, a violation of our corporate polices and contrary to our corporate culture."

He said the company has "zero tolerance for racism."

In the lawsuit, black workers said an "Out of Order" sign was posted and the bathroom kept locked soon after it was renovated in the summer of 2003. Meanwhile, some white workers, including a supervisor, had keys and used it. Soon after, the "Whites Only" sign appeared, the lawsuit says.

A lawyer for the workers said a white employee reported that a supervisor told him to post the sign. It was removed, but black workers who complained said they faced retaliation, from suspensions to firings. A break room once used mostly by blacks was closed that summer. In a new lounge, the refrigerator and cabinets were locked and only whites had keys, the suit says.

Over the years, black workers were also subjected to racial slurs and comments, according to court papers. In one case, the lawsuit said, a picture of two monkeys with black workers' names underneath was posted on the locker of a black employee.

Lawyers for the workers said the racist sign pushed them to take legal action.

"They couldn't be quiet anymore," said Audrey Wiggins, a staff attorney with the Lawyers' Committee.

The workers are asking the court to force Tyson to set corrective polices. They are also seeking unspecified punitive and compensatory damages.

Wiggins said the suit should send a message that "the 21st-century workplace won't tolerate this kind of situation."

Falls City Beer
08-19-2005, 11:42 PM
My wife, who's from Nashville, and I get a real chuckle from the ads that run on the television that we see when we visit her parents in Tennessee. Our favorite is the commercial for Ford trucks that proclaims they are "trucks for the New South." Stories like this make me wonder--are they done with the New South and ready to move on to the New Old South?

08-20-2005, 07:51 AM
I'm going to follow this one. I won't buy their products until it gets resolved.

08-20-2005, 08:56 AM
I guarentee you have something from this company in your home. I work here.

Bemis reaches settlement over racial harassment case

Eastside plastics plant will pay more than $200,000 in deal

By Howard Greninger/Tribune-Star

September 28, 2004

A settlement has been reached between the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Bemis Co. Inc.'s Terre Haute manufacturing plant involving a federal racial harassment lawsuit.

A consent decree, announced Monday, results in Bemis paying $245,000 to 22 black employees and former employees in amounts to be determined by the EEOC.

Bemis also will establish a $55,000 fund to be used as a reward for any employee who comes forward with information "leading to the determination, termination and/or criminal prosecution for future acts of racially motivated vandalism or racial harassment which occur at the Bemis Terre Haute plant," according to the consent decree.

Bemis starting Jan. 1, 2005 also is required to forward a report to the EEOC every 90 days "including any formal complaint of a racially hostile environment made pursuant to Bemis' formal policy, along with the company's report of its response to that complaint, and a status update of all pending investigations regarding a racially hostile environment," the decree states.

Jean P. Kamp, regional attorney for the EEOC's Milwaukee District Office, said the EEOC "will be watching [Bemis] for the next three years on the consent decree. We think that this is probably the best solution for everybody, assuming that Bemis is committed to this and they're certainly telling us they are.

"It is our hope, that with this, that Bemis is really committing to getting rid of this horrible atmosphere that has existed there," Kamp said.

The EEOC filed a federal lawsuit in May 2001 charging black employees at Bemis were subjected to racial harassment including use of racial epithets, racial graffiti and nooses displayed in the workplace.

Bemis's Terre Haute plant is part of the company's polyethylene packaging division, with more than 800,000 square feet, or 20 acres, under one roof. There are about 1,000 employees at the plant, of whom about 29 are black.

In reaching the agreement, Bemis does not admit any wrongdoing and continues to assert that any acts alleged in the lawsuit were never condoned by the company and that the company did everything possible to discover the perpetrator or perpetrators of those acts, said Melanie R. Miller, vice president of investor relations for Minneapolis-based Bemis.

The settlement "leaves in place, without interference from the EEOC, the company's established policies and procedures for combating racial harassment," Miller said in a statement.

The company decided to settle the matter "based on its desire to focus on the future of the facility rather than litigating what did or did not happen in the past," Miller said.

Telephone messages seeking comment were left Monday with several of the 22 employees involved in the lawsuit.

Howard Greninger can be reached at (812) 231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.

08-20-2005, 09:19 AM
Bemis racial lawsuit to proceed, judge rules

By Melissa Vogt/Tribune-Star

November 19, 2003

A lawsuit alleging racial harassment will proceed against Bemis Co., a federal judge has ruled.

In a 68-page ruling issued Monday in U.S. District Court of Southern Indiana, Judge John D. Tinder wrote, "the court is left with the sense that the Bemis Terre Haute plant may be permeated with an aura of benign neglect on the part of management to a very serious atmosphere of racial discrimination."

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit brought against Bemis originally was set for trial one year ago. Bemis had asked the U.S. District Court judge to dismiss the case.

The federal civil rights law enforcement agency claims at least 19 incidents of racial harassment, such as graffiti using the word "******," racial comments made by co-workers, appearances of ropes tied as nooses and co-worker displays of the Confederate flag, occurred in the plant December 1996 to March 2002. Among the most racist epithets were phrases such as "Black Sambo," "Jungle Monkees" and "Hang 'em all."

In court documents, Bemis said it promptly investigated reports of harassment and did what it could to prevent further incidents, including the creation of a diversity team in 2000.

In evaluating evidence the company presented, Tinder wrote, "Bemis has been presented with a series of challenging racial harassment incidents and arguably has failed to address them in a comprehensive and adequate way.

"Apathy in the face of the behaviors discussed below can signal the low-minded provocateurs of such stunts that at Bemis, the letter of the anti-discrimination laws will touch them softly, and the spirit of these prohibitions will not affect them at all."

The judge said the incidents seemed to occur in batches that cease for a while but reoccur -- "much like indifferent attempts to put out a campfire can appear to be effective for a time, only to have the embers spring back to life."

Tinder's decision permits EEOC to proceed with its case as a "pattern and practice" lawsuit.

Instead of trying to prove racial harassment in each individual instance, EEOC attorneys first must convince a jury the incidents and the company's response added up to an overall hostile work environment in the plant. Then attorneys can seek to prove each of the 16 Bemis employees who are part of the lawsuit were harmed by working in such an environment.

As of June 2002, Bemis employed about 1,100 people in its Terre Haute plant, which makes printed polyethylene products. About 29 employees were black.

A trial date has not been set. In two weeks, both sides must agree on a plan to conclude the case, whether by trial or out-of-court settlement.

The EEOC attorney working the case was encouraged by Monday's ruling.

"We are pleased that the court permitted us to proceed under a pattern and practice theory, and recognized that it is appropriate for the EEOC to challenge racial harassment using the same tools we have previously used to challenge sexual harassment in landmark harassment cases such as against Mitsubishi Motors," said Jean P. Kamp, the regional attorney for the EEOC's Milwaukee District Office.

In some other pattern and practice harassment cases, companies settled soon after a judge denied the company's motion to dismiss the case, Kamp said.

"Usually the parties start talking again," she said.

Mitsubishi Motors, for example, settled sexual harassment claims for $34 million. Dial Corp., which produces soap in Aurora, Ill., also settled sexual harassment claims for $10 million, Kamp said.

EEOC tried for 3 1/2 months to settle the complaints against Bemis before it filed suit in May 2001.

Bemis company officials did not return phone calls seeking comment Tuesday. Sheboygan Falls, Wis.,-based Bemis produces flexible packaging and pressure-sensitive materials, primarily for labeling.

Melissa Vogt can be reached at (812) 231-4299 or melissa.vogt@tribstar.com.

Story created Nov 19, 2003 - 07:44:40 CST.

08-20-2005, 09:26 AM
Hard to believe this kind of stuff happens in 2005

Tony Cloninger
08-21-2005, 12:00 AM
It's not hard for me to believe.......the kids of those racist underneath those hoods from the 60's and in underground Neo-Nazis org. in the 70's and 80's...have learned to "David Duke" it.

Look presentable......hide your feelings .....but make policies and tolerate racist behavior.

08-21-2005, 12:25 AM
Hard to believe this kind of stuff happens in 2005It's easier to believe when you've lived in the South. Doesn't make it any more palatable, though.

08-21-2005, 07:28 AM
We never buy our chickens anyway (especially Tyson) - living out in the country, we just steal the neighbor's!

While I fully support legislation (what else can the government do?) -such legislation, due to the condition of the human heart, will never eradicate prejudice and racism. I remember a wise man once said - "law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless."