(CN) – CEVA Logistics might be liable for creating a racially hostile work environment for black workers, the 8th Circuit ruled, saying the case involved “more than a few slurs and instances of graffiti.
Plaintiffs Gregory Watson and Alonzo Banks both worked for CEVA Logistics, a company that ships and receives automobiles by railroad.
They claimed they were repeatedly the targets of racist comments, and they reported seeing racially charged graffiti, including “KKK” and “I hate niggers,” carved into workbench in the employees’ locker room.
They said management did nothing until Banks filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Racist graffiti also appeared in restrooms and railcars, according to the lawsuit.
Watson and Banks said several white CEVA workers regularly displayed the Confederate flag, mostly on items of clothing.
One co-worker allegedly told Banks that he had a problem with black people, because they sell drugs and are violent. When Banks complained, he claimed his supervisor replied, “It is what it is. Look at the guy’s truck.”
Banks said the man’s “whole truck is a Confederate flag.”
Watson and Banks claimed they were disciplined for things their white co-workers did with impunity, and their co-workers falsely accused them of being “unsafe” to avoid working with black people.
The district court ruled for CEVA, saying the incidents were too isolated and infrequent to amount to a hostile work environment.
The St. Louis-based federal appeals court disagreed.
“CEVA mischaracterizes several incidents and largely fails to acknowledge that the plaintiffs are entitled to reasonable inferences from the evidence presented.”
The court added that it was “troubled” by CEVA’s claim that the workers had to specify the exact number of times they saw the graffiti.
Judge Michael Melloy suggested that the “mere awareness of its ongoing presence – regardless of the exact number of times they can remember seeing it – could contribute to a hostile work environment.”
“We believe the record contains incidents a reasonable jury could view as threatening or intimidating,” Melloy wrote, reversing summary judgment for CEVA.