Racial Insults Were Unending, Worker Says

     ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) – In a federal lawsuit recalling the worst abuses of the Old South, a worker claims auto shop owners subjected him to “long-term racial abuse,” spat on him, and claimed they were free to call him the “N” word because their insurance covered harassment lawsuits.
     Anthony Suggs sued Raymond Moxley, Peter Pirhalla, and their company First Choice Body Shop Corp., in Federal Court.
     Suggs, an African-American, began working as a car detailer for Arlington-based First Choice in 1994, according to the complaint.
     He claims Moxley and Pirhalla, the shop’s white owners, harassed him for years and ignored his complaints, knowing he needed to keep his job.
     Suggs, a former amateur lightweight boxer, was arrested and jailed on drug-related charges several times in his youth. He claims that despite rehabilitating himself after leaving jail, he could not find decent employment due to his criminal record and modest education.
     “The defendants hired Mr. Suggs in approximately 1994,” the complaint states. “Since the beginning of Mr. Suggs’ employment at First Choice he has been subject to regular racial harassment in the form of racial slurs and offensive commentary and conduct by defendants Moxley and Pirhalla, as well as other employees with the knowledge of defendants Moxley and Pirhalla. Mr. Suggs regularly complained to defendants Moxley and Pirhalla about their conduct. Notwithstanding Mr. Suggs’ repeated complaints, the racial harassment persisted.
     “The demeaning harassment at issue has occurred regularly since the beginning of Mr. Suggs’ employment, including in the four years prior to the filing of this complaint. The following exemplify the conduct at issue:
     “a) Conduct and statements by defendant Pirhalla to Mr. Suggs or in his presence:
     “‘I didn’t know n—-rs fart like that.’
     “‘I wouldn’t let my son go out because he came out of the house dressed like a n—-r.’
     “Spitting on Mr. Suggs.
     “Referring to Martin Luther King Day as Martin Luther ‘Coon’ Day.
     “Commenting that when a black person is put on U.S. currency, it should be the face of actor George Jefferson on one side and the head of a pit bull on the other.
     “b) Conduct and statements by defendant Moxley to Mr. Suggs or in his presence:
     “‘Give a “n—-r” a rope and he will swear he is a cowboy.’
     “Segregated bathrooms existed because black people’s ‘shit stinks so bad.’
     “‘I’m going to start calling you “my enigma” because you are so confused … What’s up, my enigma?’
     “Comments that Mr. Suggs could be won over by an offering of watermelon, chicken, and grape soda.
     “Mr. Suggs’ responses to defendants’ harassment were always ones of disapproval or disgust. He would ask them to stop their comments, shake his head at them, walk away, or otherwise ignore them.
     “Defendant Pirhalla told Mr. Suggs that because First Choice had purchased liability insurance protecting it against harassment claims, Mr. Suggs could be called a ‘n—-r’ to his face with impunity.
     “On or about Dec. 28, 2010, Mr. Suggs and Kelly LNU, a fellow employee who is white, had a disagreement, with Mr. Suggs stating that he was not responsible for removing Kelly’s trash. Thereafter, Mr. Suggs overheard Kelly state repeatedly, ‘Fuck that n—-r!’ Mr. Suggs told Kelly that he did not appreciate his language.
     “On or about Jan. 3, 2011, Mr. Suggs complained to defendant Moxley about Kelly’s racial abuse. He also told defendant Pirhalla that it would be humiliating for him to have to take out Kelly’s trash after Kelly called him a ‘n—-r.’
     “Defendant Pirhalla brushed off Mr. Suggs’ request and instructed Mr. Suggs to take out Kelly’s trash.
     “In June 2011, defendant Moxley told Mr. Suggs that he should be happy white people brought black people over from Africa and ‘bred’ them because ‘that’s why there are big black athletes here and not in Africa.’ Later that same day, Mr. Moxley returned to the same theme of white people ‘breeding rich, fast, and good athletes.’ Mr. Suggs suffered this abuse with expressions of disgust.
     “In July 2011, defendant Pirhalla told Mr. Suggs that he should be proud of him, as he (Pirhalla) had been picking corn that weekend since he ‘couldn’t find any cotton to pick.’
     “In April 2012, defendant Moxley stated to Mr. Suggs that Pontiac, the car brand, is an acronym for the phrase, ‘Poor Old N—-r Thinks It’s a Cadillac.’
     “Defendants Pirhalla and Moxley regularly used the topics of Barack Obama’s presidency and the newly constructed Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington D.C. as a means of needling, ridiculing and humiliating Mr. Suggs in a racially charged manner. Some examples include:
     “(a) On or about May 24, 2011, in Mr. Suggs’ presence, defendant Pirhalla asked, rhetorically, why President Obama had been in Ireland while a tornado caused a disaster in the United States, observing, ‘I guess there weren’t any black people in that town [where the tornado struck].’
     “(b) In September 2012, during the election season, defendants Moxley and Pirhalla advised Mr. Suggs that ‘ya’ll’ would win the election.
     “(c) Ray Moxley stated that President Obama fixed the BP oil leak of 2010 by placing President Obama’s basketball on the hole.
     “(d) In August 2011, defendants Pirhalla and Moxley told Mr. Suggs that the area earthquake had knocked off the head of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Statue.
     “(e) In September 2011, defendant Pirhalla asked Mr. Suggs for a pair of basketball shoes to place on the statue of Martin Luther King.” (Brackets in complaint).
     Suggs claims the defendants ignored his requests to stop the offensive remarks.
     “Defendant Pirhalla also regularly abused Mr. Suggs physically, including pushing him, kicking his property and hitting Mr. Suggs on his buttocks and the arm in a purportedly ‘joking’ manner,” the complaint states. “This conduct was particularly offensive given his ongoing racial harassment.
     “Notwithstanding that he could have put either of his supervisors on the floor with a single punch, Mr. Suggs responded to all their abuse, including defendant Pirhalla’s physical abuse, simply with repeated statements that the offensive conduct and speech be stopped and that he did not like to be touched, or by walking away.”
     Suggs says the harassment caused him extreme emotional distress, humiliation and embarrassment.
     He seeks compensatory and punitive damages and an injunction.
     He is represented by Victor Glasberg and Bernadette Armand.

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