EEOC sues Utah industrial company for racial discrimination

EEOC sues Utah industrial company for racial discrimination

Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Federal authorities are suing a Utah construction company, alleging workplace racial discrimination.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission accused Holmes & Holmes Industrial Inc. of Magna of firing two black workers who complained about racial taunts and epithets -- including repeated use of the N-word -- on a job site from managers and other employees.

When the two men complained to supervisors verbally and in writing, they were fired, according to the suit.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City seeks back pay with interest for two brothers, Antonio Bratcher and Joby Bratcher, and an injunction against the company from further workplace harassment and employment practices training.

Antonio Bratcher, a pipe fitter, and Joby Bratcher, a welder's fire watcher -- who both made $17 an hour -- endured two years of taunts and racial epithets from a supervisor and co-workers on a job site at the Chevron oil refinery in North Salt Lake, said Mary Jo O'Neill, a regional attorney for the EEOC.

The brothers put company managers on notice "from the get-go" of racial slurs and jokes, O'Neill said. Despite that, "the harassment continued," the agency's lawsuit says.

"They did everything they could to make it stop," she said.

O'Neill said the project foreman, the brothers' direct supervisor, repeatedly made racial comments to or about them such as, "You don't want to do concrete work. That's (N-word) work," and, "There is no place in the world for a proud (N-word)."

Other Holmes & Holmes employees, including white and Navajo workers, corroborated the brothers' complaint, O'Neill said. The company has about 60 employees.

When they complained to their boss, O'Neill said he told them, "That's how I am. Deal with it." They also met the company owners about the behavior to no avail, she said.

"I think this is egregious," O'Neill said. "I don't think anyone should have to put up with that kind of name-calling in order to make a living and support their families."

"Holmes & Holmes appears to have allowed and tolerated race discrimination in the workplace," said Rayford Irvin, EEOC acting district director. "The incident alleged in the complaint reminds us that, unfortunately, overt racism remains a factor in some workplaces."

Holmes & Holmes referred questions to a Salt Lake City lawyer, who said the brothers participated in some of the banter they now call objectionable.

"We will be aggressively defending against the allegations set forth in the complaint," the lawyer, Ruth Shapiro, said Wednesday. "We look forward to presenting this to a jury and are confident that when a jury hears the facts -- including the Bratcher brothers' own participation in some of this conduct -- we will be vindicated."

No phone listing could be found for Antonio Bratcher or Joby Bratcher. A request for comment was relayed through officials at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

"No one should have to put up with this kind of behavior to make a living. It's unacceptable," O'Neill said. "It also violates federal and state law."


Story compiled with contributions from Dennis Romboy and Paul Foy of the Associated Press.

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