EEOC sues Whiting-Turner for discrimination, retaliation on Google job

EEOC sues Whiting-Turner for discrimination, retaliation on Google job

Phil Puccio

Editor’s note: This article includes references to racial slurs that could be disturbing to readers.

Dive Brief:

  • Whiting-Turner, the fifth largest contractor in the country by revenue, segregated employees into all-Black work crews headed by White supervisors, one of whom referred to them as “boy,” “m—–f—–” and “you,” and routinely told them to “get ya Black asses back to work,” according to a federal lawsuit filed against the firm by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
  • Whiting-Turner also assigned all-Black work crews to the physically hardest and least desirable jobs at the firm’s $600 million Google data center project in Clarksville, Tennessee, in 2018 and 2019, the suit alleges. That included making Black crews work outdoors without shade, while White workers had less arduous tasks, such as operating forklifts and working indoors or in the shade, the suit claims.
  • Port-a-potties at the site were covered in graffiti that referred to the KKK, White power, the N-word and demands for Black people to “go back to Africa,” according to the suit. When two Black employees, complained publicly during a team meeting about how Black workers were treated at the site, they were fired the same day, the suit says.

Dive Insight:

Baltimore-based Whiting-Turner, which reported $8.7 billion in revenue for 2020, didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

On its website, the firm says it has a “demonstrated commitment” to diversity and inclusion. “We recognize the value of diversity and foster an inclusive environment built on collaboration, communication and respect. People are our most valuable assets, and we are committed to providing equal opportunity and advancement for all of our employees and trade partners.”

At the Google jobsite, however, the company didn’t live up to that promise, according to the lawsuit. For example, the EEOC claims one licensed forklift operator who is Black was assigned a general laborer position instead, and wasn’t allowed to fill in driving a forklift, even when the usual White forklift operator didn’t come to work.

News of the suit comes on the eve of Construction Inclusion Week, an industry effort led by six major construction firms — Turner, Gilbane, Mortenson, Clark, McCarthy and DPR — that kicks off Oct. 18. The six CEOs of those firms say their goal is to promote inclusion in the industry, while adopting a zero-tolerance stance to hate on the jobsite.

Other allegations

At Whiting-Turner’s Google jobsite, White employees were frequently allowed to use buggies or other vehicles to traverse the site, while Black employees had to walk, and Black employees as a class were rarely placed in crew lead or supervisory positions, the suit says. At least one qualified Black employee, who was not offered a lead position while working under Whiting-Turner, was made a crew lead when he was placed under new supervision with a subcontractor at the same work site, according to the suit.  

The complaint also says that when the employees initially complained to an assistant superintendent about the White crew leader’s abusive language and behavior, they were told to “let it go” and that the crew leader was “old-fashioned.” EEOC said in the suit that it tried unsuccessfully to reach a pre-litigation settlement with Whiting-Turner.

On its website, Whiting-Turner says it promotes a “culture of opportunity, inclusion and respect” and that it advances employees “regardless of their race, sexual orientation, religion, gender, age, disability status or any other dimension of diversity.”

The suit is seeking punitive monetary damages for the Black workers to be determined at trial, and an order for Whiting-Turner to eradicate its alleged unlawful employment practices going forward. 

In August, EEOC won a racial discrimination suit against Texas-based general contractor CCC Group, which was ordered to pay $420,000 in monetary relief to Black workers. 

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