After complaining to Tyson Foods Inc. about the posting of a “Whites Only” sign on one of Tyson’s restrooms at its Ashland, Alabama, facility, two black employees were subjected to adverse personnel actions by Tyson management, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleges in a discrimination lawsuit announced this month.
The EEOC’s suit, EEOC v. Tyson Foods Inc., CV-05-BE-1704-E (U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama), alleges that Tyson’s violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by discriminating against Henry Adams, Leon Walker, and other black employees, by establishing and maintaining a locked bathroom facility, which on occasion had signs posted on it stating “Out of Order” and “Whites Only”. Keys to the facility were reportedly distributed to white employees only. After Adams and Walker complained of the segregated facility, management reportedly subjected them to adverse employment actions, including suspensions and disciplinary write-ups.
“This year the Commission is celebrating its fortieth anniversary,” said Bernice Williams-Kimbrough, district director of the EEOC’s Birmingham District Office. “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. The EEOC exists to make certain that the promise of equal opportunity in employment extends not only to access to jobs but to equal treatment on those jobs.”
The EEOC filed suit only after attempting to reach a voluntary pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The suit seeks injunctive relief, and compensatory and punitive damages on behalf of Henry Adams, Leon Walker, and the class of black employees.
“A company’s commitment to equal opportunity is measured by more than the existence of written policies and diversity training,” said Charles Guerrier, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Birmingham District Office. “True commitment is measured by the environment in which employees work and their understanding of what equal opportunity means on a day-to-day, one-on-one basis. When an employee feels free to lock a bathroom facility and to post a ‘Whites Only’ sign on it, even for one day, that employer has not been effective in delivering the message of equal opportunity to its employees.”
According to its Web site www.tysonfoodsinc.com: “Tyson Foods Inc., founded in 1935 with headquarters in Springdale, Arkansas, is the world’s largest processor and marketer of chicken, beef and pork and the second-largest food company in the Fortune 500. The company produces a wide variety of protein-based and prepared food products, which are marketed under the Powered by Tyson strategy.
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