Former employee sues Chicago company for racial harassment

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A former employee of an Chicago based construction company alleges he was subjected to “degrading and offensive racial slurs” from coworkers and retaliation after he complained to his supervisors, according to federal lawsuit filed Thursday.

Darrell Burbridge was hired by NPL Construction as laborer in 2013 and alleges that he was repeatedly referred to as a “n—-r” by supervisors and coworkers, the suit said. In addition, employees at the company would mount a large Confederate flag on a vehicle and drive around the parking lot in front of him. His supervisors encouraged other employees to harass Burbridge and on two occasions “displayed nooses out of rope to symbolize the lynching of African-Americans.”

A foreman repeatedly told African-American employees that he “does not like blacks, and that he only wants Hispanics on his crew because blacks work slow,” the suit stated. Formal complaints to a superintendent were “blatantly ignored” and no inquiry or action was conducted by NPL Construction.

In May 2015, Burbridge claims he received unfair disciplinary action after he “hit” a natural gas line, even though he did not damage or rupture the line, the suit said. Burbridge was called back to work one month later and assigned to a different crew, at which point he was told that his future looked “bleak.” Burbridge was laid off in December 2015 and alleges it was because he complained of racial harassment.

Other non-African-American employees who had “hit” a natural gas line did not receive any disciplinary action and were not terminated, the suit stated. After Burbridge was not called back to work, a Caucasian laborer with less experience was asked to work instead.

Burbridge’s suit follows another suit filed against the company in July by former employee Ian Knowles. Knowles also claims he was terminated because he voiced objection to racial discrimination, according to the suit.

Knowles was hired in 2011 and received achievement awards throughout his employment, according to Knowles’ lawsuit. In April 2015, he received a photo and text message from an equipment operator that read, “This is why we shoot you guys.” Later that day, Knowles showed the text message to management and several supervisors who did not take any action.

After making several complaints about the message, Knowles claims he was replaced on his usual crew and sent to “inconvenient work locations” and “assigned the most undesirable tasks,” the suit said.

Knowles filed a complaint of racial discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in March 2016, according to the suit.

In January 2016, he was told, “We will call you back to work in 2 weeks,” and was never brought back to work, the suit said. A Caucasian laborer with less experience was called back into work instead.

Burbridge’s two-count suit and Knowles three-count suit both seek an unspecified amount of damages.

NPL Construction declined to comment on the lawsuits, spokeswoman Lissa Druss Christman of Serafin and Associates said.

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