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Disquieting Racism Reported at Illinois Central

CHICAGO (CN) - A white railroad employee attacked a black co-worker with a knife and cut off his dreadlocks and stomped on them, which the railroad called mere "horseplay," the black worker claims in court.

Solomon Perry sued the Illinois Central Railroad, Louis Busch, Kirk Carroll and Mark Hightower in Federal Court.

"I am really very troubled as to why this case wasn't even ... investigated as a hate crime," Cook County Judge Allen Murphy said in a 2013 criminal proceeding against Perry's attacker, Louis Busch, who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Perry began working for the railroad as a conductor in 2008, and applied to become a rail traffic controller 4 years later. He claims his efforts to gain promotion singled him out for harassment from white co-workers.

They called him "nappy head," "Rastafarian hillbilly," "Velcro head," "rope head," "wool head," and "tree swinger," among others, Perry says.

Then: "On November 10, 2012, Mr. Perry returned at the end of the workday to the company's terminal at Markham Yard in Chicago and went into the crew room to sign out for the day. As he walked toward the computer to sign out, he passed two white co-workers, Walter Smith and Louis Busch, and overheard Mr. Smith say to defendant Busch, 'You don't have the balls to do it!' Defendant Busch then forcefully grabbed Mr. Perry's dreadlocks, pulled his head back, and cut off locks of his hair with a five- to six-inch knife. Defendant Busch held the locks of hair and the knife in the air triumphantly, and then placed the locks of hair on his own head, exclaiming, 'Look at me! I'm a Rastafarian nigger like Perry!' The other men in the room - Mr. Smith, Ryan Gianoli, and Dan VanDeel - reacted by pointing at Mr. Perry, laughing, and saying, 'Look! He's a Rastafarian nigger like Perry!' and telling defendant Busch to 'give me some of that hair!'

"Mr. Perry immediately protested the assault and his co-workers' reaction by saying, 'It is NOT OK for you to assault and harass me!' He went on: 'Is assault funny!? Louis took out a knife and cut me! And all of you are harassing me and you think this is funny!' Mr. Perry's co-workers continued to laugh and call Mr. Perry a 'nigger,' high-fiving one another as they did. Mr. Gianoili told Mr. Perry to 'stop being a pussy,' while Mr. VanDeel claimed that Mr. Perry was 'making a big deal out of nothing.' Defendant Busch responded by stating, 'I should have cut more off!' He then threw the locks of Perry hair on the floor and stomped on them," according to the lawsuit.

When Perry reported the assault and harassment, his supervisor Brian Torres told Perry's assaulters to apologize, but had no intention of imposing further discipline, Perry says.

"Mr. Torres's failure to take the situation seriously is consistent with his own discriminatory treatment of Mr. Perry and other African American employees. Mr. Torres himself had regularly taunted Mr. Perry because of Mr. Perry's race and religion, making comments like 'go back to Jamaica, mon,' telling him that he looked 'like a little bitch with that shit on top of [his] head,'" Perry says.

He told the Tribune: "It was the single most horrific event that I'd ever experienced in my life. ... Yet the institutional response was worse than the actions of the individuals that victimized me."

For days, Perry says, he tried to contact executives at the railroad to accept his report of racial and religious harassment, but no one returned his calls or his written statement.

After he contacted the police and company leaders in Canada, the company finally set a hearing date - and the hearing notice publicized his home address to all involved parties.

Perry says he "found a dead rat on his doorstep with its chest cavity split open," shortly before the hearing.

Days later, he "found in his mailbox a death threat written with letters cut out of a magazine or newspaper. Because it had no postage, Mr. Perry knew it had been placed there by hand rather than delivered through the mail. The letter stated: 'If U talk Monday U R Dead nigger,'" Perry claims.

The company subsequently characterized the assault as "horseplay," and took no further action. Defendant Busch did not participate in the hearing, having decided to retire.

Fearing for his life, Perry refused to return to work, and was fired.

"When these individuals kill me will it be considered horseplay too Mr. Carol? [sic]" Perry asked his supervisor, defendant Carroll, the complaint states.

"No reasonable person is going to go back to a workplace where their life is at risk," Perry's attorney Lisa Banks told the Tribune. "Particularly in an environment like a railroad where it's a dangerous place to be anyway. When co-workers say they're not going to watch your back, aren't going to help in the yard, an accident could happen easily."

Perry seeks punitive damages for racial discrimination and harassment, and retaliation.

He is represented by Lisa Banks with Katz, Marshall & Banks in Washington, D.C.

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