Sanitation workers allege racially hostile workplace

African Americans sue over workplace discrimination in Paris, Texas

Eight former sanitation workers have filed a lawsuit against a Paris, Texas, company alleging racial and workplace discrimination.

The lawsuit is among a growing list of civil rights complaints and judgments against companies with operations in Paris, a Northeast Texas city with a population of some 25,000.

This most recent federal lawsuit alleges the company, Sanitation Solutions, allowed a racially hostile environment in which African-American employees were the subject of racial slurs, and disparate pay and work assignments.

In the lawsuit, the former employees allege the “N” word was carved into a door, and a bathroom had a swastika drawn on it. “Multiple witnesses” reported seeing “nooses displayed” on Sanitation Solutions locations and trucks, the suit alleges.

"I think there's a real cavalier attitude that a lot of our clients were lucky to have these jobs, that they're just trash workers and so they weren't worthy of the kind of respect the law affords people of all color,” said Jay Ellwanger, an attorney representing the former workers.

When reached for comment, Sanitations Solutions' attorney, James R. Rodgers, said the suit had just been filed, and he only had a chance to skim through it.

“We are sorry it came to this point,” Rodgers said.

He said the company has already denied the allegations in an earlier EEOC complaint.

“We are fully prepared to respond to every complaint in court,” Rodgers said.

But the former employees told WFAA that they endured a racially hostile workplace.

"Heard it. Saw it. Complained about it. Nothing ever happened.,” said Dantrell Patterson, one of the eight former employees. “The thing that was on the bathroom door, it took them a while to even get it off. They kept it up there after we told them about it for at least a month."

The suit alleges, “White workers with less experience were consistently hired in favor” or “received promotions and wage increases over more qualified Black employees.”

"I never got a raise the whole three years I was there,” Patterson said. “I made $8. I just didn’t feel like that was fair. Other people coming in were making $9."

Three other former employees, two white and one Hispanic, have filed sworn affidavits in support of the lawsuit.

A WFAA investigation last November found EEOC complaints against several of Paris' largest employers.

Sara Lee Bakery has paid $4 million in a settlement over similar allegations. Separately, Turner Industries had a $4 million judgment against it as well.

"I hate to say it, but it takes the white guy stepping forward to acknowledge what my clients have been saying for years for them to take it seriously,” said James Vagnini, an attorney for the former workers.

© 2017 WFAA-TV


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