An aviation fueling company with headquarters in New York has agreed to pay nearly $1.9 million to black and Hispanic workers at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport who said they were taunted with hangman’s nooses, racist cartoons and other racial slurs.
Allied Aviation Services Inc. did not admit wrongdoing, but it settled a lawsuit before it could go to trial in June.
The settlement announced March 11 will be paid to 15 current and former employees who worked at Allied’s fueling station at DFW.
“This is a company that failed to recognize the red flags,” said Suzanne Anderson, an attorney for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which joined private attorneys in filing the lawsuit. “If you see a noose, you should react.”
Black employees said whites forced them to ride in the back of company shuttle buses and someone scrawled a slur on a tile in the men’s room. A Hispanic worker charged that his boss displayed a racially insulting cartoon about the worker.
One of the former workers, Eric Mitchel, called the treatment of minorities “a modern-day lynching.”
“We have endured a lot,” he said. “We feel very good that we’ve been vindicated.”
Although the lawsuit focused on DFW workers, lawyers said they received similar complaints from Allied workers at John F. Kennedy International, LaGuardia and Newark (N.J.) Liberty International airports.
Officials at Allied’s headquarters in New York did not return calls for comment. A woman in the office at DFW Airport said no one there could talk to the press. The company operates at more than 20 airports around the country, fueling aircraft operated by American Airlines and other major carriers.
Mitchel was among the first workers to complain, calling in DFW Airport police after he found a “hit list” and the names of five black employees scratched into a bathroom tile. He eventually quit his job as a maintenance supervisor and went into property management.
Francisco Ochoa told the EEOC that a manager kept under glass on his desk an offensive cartoon of a bound and blindfolded man representing Ochoa sitting in a small room. A caption read, “The Mexican gas chamber.”
Ochoa died of cancer last year. His widow, Diana, fought to hold back her emotions Tuesday as she described how her husband, afraid the taunting would escalate into violence, kept a baseball bat in the hallway of their home.
“My husband was a good Christian man, an ex-Marine,” she said. “He wasn’t afraid of anything except when he worked at Allied. He was afraid for his life and for his family.”
Carl Gaines said epithets aimed at him appeared on fuel tanks and the bathroom wall. Getting through the work day at Allied could be tough, he said.
“You didn’t know who might like you, who might not. Nothing was said personally to my face, it was all behind my back,” Gaines said. He believes he was denied a promotion because he joined the lawsuit, and he now works at an insurance company.
Anderson, the EEOC attorney, said Allied was the largest settlement of a race-based case ever in the agency’s Dallas office, which covers most of Texas and southern New Mexico.
Anderson said racial harassment cases have doubled over the past two decades.
The settlement will require Allied to conduct annual diversity training for all employees around the country for three years. The company will also be required to file quarterly reports with the EEOC listing any complaints of discrimination or retaliation.
The Allied case was unusual in that management acquiesced in the offensive behavior, Anderson said. High-ranking executives were aware of the allegations but did nothing about them until the lawsuit was filed, she said.
Eventually, the No. 2 official at the DFW fueling station was fired – he considered himself the scapegoat – and his supervisor quit, the workers’ lawyers said.
Six of the 15 workers getting the settlement are still at Allied, but Mitchel said he couldn’t go back.
“The job was fun,” he said, adding, “I don’t want to be around the same individuals who were there. The cancer, I think, is still there.”
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