Nineteen current and former UPS workers sued their employer on Wednesday over claims it allowed a culture of racism to flourish at a distribution center in Maumee, Ohio, according to filings published by the Toledo Blade.
The workers have alleged that the racist and discriminatory behavior was allowed to go on for decades. Managers and supervisors, some of whom were also named as defendants in the lawsuit, allegedly retaliated against black employees or discouraged them from reporting their complaints and handed out insufficient punishments in the few instances in which they followed through on the allegations.
They also allege that, aside from outright racial hostility, the discriminatory practices led to black workers being overlooked for promotions or denied better hours and given more physically demanding and undesirable jobs. The lawsuit is seeking financial compensation and a court order to stop the discrimination.
The racist incidents employees said had occurred included:
• An instance in which a white employee who had in the past posted Nazi images to social media hung two nooses above a black employee’s workstation. He was later fired, but a white supervisor and white co-workers who saw him place the nooses and joked about them received no punishment. Another supervisor who investigated the incident allegedly told the black employee to stay quiet and warned he could face discipline for taking photos of the nooses.
• An instance in which a white driver passed a black driver while making a hanging gesture by pulling his collar. He was not punished.
• An instance in which white co-workers made racially threatening comments about nooses in a group text. None were punished, and after the black employee on the thread who had reported the comments then filed a grievance, UPS denied the formal complaint had been made. In another text message, a white co-worker allegedly made a racist joke to a plaintiff about firing employees for being black, and that same plaintiff later received a text with a photo of a stuffed monkey wearing a UPS uniform near an area where black employees worked. Again, nothing happened.
• An instance in which a white employee said he was “late for a Klan meeting.” A black and a white employee reported the comment, but nothing happened.
• An instance in which 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. Eventually the incident was investigated by a more senior manager, and the employee was fired. She was then “almost immediately” reinstated by UPS.
These incidents mostly occurred in 2016 and 2017, but in 2013, one of the black employees “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,” according to the filing. That image was a symbol a white supervisor used for playing video games with fellow employees. And in another instance in 2013, a white employee who was fired for calling a black security guard a “lazy n—–” was reinstated by a more senior white manager.
And with other visual symbols—Confederate flags, N-word graffiti in the bathroom, racist photos on social media, and threatening body language—white employees made it clear their black co-workers were not welcome at the Maumee facility, according to the filing.
A UPS spokesman told the Washington Post that the company had a strict policy against harassment and discrimination and that it “promptly investigated and took swift disciplinary action against those found to have engaged in inappropriate actions, including the discharge of two employees.” He also added that the company had, with the supervision of the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, taken actions “so that employees are trained and our operations are monitored to ensure we maintain a positive work environment, free of harassment.”
According to the lawsuit, the Ohio Civil Rights Commission had found in 2017 that there was “probable cause to believe that discrimination and retaliation had occurred at the facility.” But the commission chose not to pursue the charges further to a full hearing, instead agreeing to a conciliation agreement. UPS told some of the workers that it would hire more minority workers. The plaintiffs said in the lawsuit that they saw no changes to conditions for black employees at the plant.