By Leah Kessler
On March 13, 2019, 19 current and former United Parcel Service, Inc. (“UPS”) employees brought a suit against UPS and five local managers and supervisors alleging race discrimination. Covered by CNN, Slate, The Washington Post, The Hill, and other major media outlets due to both the severity of the allegations and UPS’s negligence in addressing its employees complaints of racial discrimination, this case has received national attention.
Dewayne Spears, et al. v. United Parcel Service, Inc., et al., Plaintiffs present a series of horrific racist acts going back to 2013—discriminatory behavior that UPS allegedly allowed to go on unchecked for decades. In 2013, according to the suit, a Black UPS employee “received a copy of an electronic image depicting a gallows and hangman’s noose with a Black man’s effigy hanging from the noose, an image of a gorilla, and a target on the effigy.” In 2016, one white employee directed the following texts to a Black co-worker as part of a group text: “If you feel down and out, the noose is loose,” “Can we buy another noose with the winnings” (in reference to possible lottery winnings), and “Like Clint Eastwood said, ‘Hang ‘em High.” After the Black employee on the thread who had reported the comments filed a grievance, UPS denied the formal complaint had been made and, at no point, were any of the culpable workers punished for making the racially threatening comments.
Then, in July 2016, a white employee, who had previously posted Nazi images to social media, hung two nooses above a Black employee’s workstation. Although he was later fired, the white supervisor and white co-workers who saw him place the nooses and joked about them received no discipline. That same month, a white driver passed a Black driver while making a hanging gesture by pulling his collar. He was not disciplined. In September 2016, a white UPS employee stated, “I’m late for a Klan meeting,” for which he received no disciplinary action, and a white delivery driver told a white supervisor she refused to deliver a package to a majority-black neighborhood she called “N*****ville” and “N***** City.” The supervisor reported her to a white manager, who did nothing. The incident was later investigated by a more senior manager, and although the employee was fired, she was “almost immediately” reinstated by UPS. In February 2017, a white employee texted a photo of a stuffed monkey wearing a UPS uniform near an area where Black employees worked, and UPS, again, did nothing.
In addition, Plaintiffs allege that UPS’s discriminatory practices denied Black employees opportunities within the company, such as promotions, better hours, and more desirable jobs, on the basis of their race. In fact, the majority of Plaintiffs worked at the facility for more than ten years, yet were repeatedly overlooked when it came to favorable job assignments and promotions.
According to this suit, after receiving more than 25 complaints from the facility’s employees, in June 2017, the Ohio Civil Rights Commission found that there was “probable cause to believe that discrimination and retaliation had occurred,” but decided not to pursue charges.
UPS has a documented history of racialized employment practices: “In March 2016, workers at a facility in Riviera Beach, Fla., alleged that they had experienced racism and harassment… A month later, eight black men in Lexington, Ky., were awarded a total of $5.3 million in damages after a jury found UPS liable for creating a hostile workplace, discrimination and retaliation… In August that year, employees in North Carolina staged a protest, claiming that they had also dealt with unfair working conditions.” While the hatred and bigotry illustrated by these 19 Plaintiffs is shocking in itself, it is the actions of those who were in a position of power and oversight that allowed this discrimination to continue.
This case highlights how supervisors, managers, and co-workers can further a hostile work environment by condoning and permitting discrimination. The employees’ supervisors knew that employees were suffering extreme race-based harassment and yet did nothing. If you believe you that your employer—whether a supervisor, co-worker, or third party—has discriminated against you based on your race, or knows that you are being discriminated against and is doing nothing to improve your working conditions, contact The Harman Firm, LLP.