(CN) – A group of black workers at a South Carolina steel plant won class certification in a lawsuit claiming that “monkey noises” were broadcast over the speakers to communicate with black workers. They also claimed they were unfairly denied promotions at Nucor Corp.
The 4th Circuit ruled that the workers “certainly presented compelling direct evidence of discrimination, such as denials of promotions when more junior white employees were granted promotions, denial of the ability to cross-train during regular shifts like their white counterparts, and a statement by a white supervisor that he would never promote a black employee.”
That evidence alone, the Virginia-based appellate panel ruled, “establishes common claims of discrimination worthy of class certification.”
The ruling reversed the district court, which found that “subjectivity in decision-making alone was insufficient to establish a disparate impact claim.”
Seven black workers sued in 2004 with complaints that they and others were referred to by white supervisors as “nigger,” “bologna lips,” “yard ape” and “porch monkey,” and that “monkey noises” were broadcast over the radio system.
The plant was also decorated with Confederate flags, and items containing Nucor’s logo alongside Confederate flags were sold in the plant’s gift shop.
The workers presented statistical evidence showing a disparity in job promotions, including the estimated percent of blacks who sought and then won promotions between December 1999 and December 2003.
The circuit court said that the evidence was valid to support a class action, and that because the workers shared common areas, all black employees were subjected to the disparate treatment.