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$4 Million EEOC Settlement|Awarded to Black Workers

DALLAS (CN) - Hillshire Brands will pay $4 million to settle a racial discrimination lawsuit from black employees at its former Sara Lee plant in East Texas, the EEOC said.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced the settlement at a Tuesday news conference outside the Earle Cabell Federal Building in Dallas. The settlement is the largest in the history of the Dallas office of the EEOC involving a hostile work environment claim.

Bakery employees sued Hillshire in Federal Court in Marshall this year, claiming they were "berated with racial slurs by supervisors and other white co-workers" and their complaints were ignored by management.

They also claimed they were unfairly assigned hazardous jobs that exposed them to black mold and asbestos.

Under terms of the two-year consent decree, Hillshire will take preventive measures against racial discrimination or harassment and report incidents to the EEOC. It also will take remedial measures to promptly address graffiti and provide anti-discrimination training.

The $4 million will be divided among 74 former employees at the Paris, Texas plant.

EEOC attorney Meaghan L. Shepard told reporters the agency determined that racial slurs and graffiti were continually used at the plant for several years before it was closed in Nov. 2011.

EEOC supervisory trial attorney Suzanne Anderson said black workers were called "the N word." She said the workers "felt embarrassed and intimidated" by the graffiti and the use of racial slurs on the plant floor.

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