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Lansing firm to pay more than $400K to resolve lawsuit over racism, discrimination

In World
June 08, 2024

GRAND RAPIDS — A Lansing-based electrical contractor has agreed to pay nine former employees more than $400,000 to resolve a federal lawsuit over “rampant racism.”

Six former employees sued United Electrical Contractors, 1314 N. Larch St., in federal court in 2022, although nine former workers were eventually part of lawsuit. This week they accepted the company’s offers of judgement, which will pay them each, on average, $47,960 plus attorney fees. All together, the company will pay $431,640.

In their lawsuit, the workers said the United Electrical Contractors tolerated racist behavior, harassment and discrimination for years. The workers said they were told to “hurry up before I pull out my whip,” and called a “boy on a slave ship” who should go back to his “plantation,” a “brown boy” and another racial slur.

“I faced horrible racism at UEC. Imagine walking around with the N-word written on your hard hat for a week,” said Chris Manning, one of the former workers, said in a news release announcing the resolution. “Or listening to your coworker brag about being a member of the KKK, and watching him tie a noose out of an electrical cord.”

“My complaints to management were ignored, and then I was then fired for making my complaints. It’s comforting that UEC agreed that it is liable for breaking the law in what happened to me, but their admission of liability won’t erase those evil memories.”

A message was left seeking comment from the company’s attorneys. The company said in January of 2022 after the complaint was filed that the claims had not previously been brought to the company’s attention, but later added it was able to review them and called them unfounded. UEC President Scott Flegler at the time called the complaints “part of an ongoing harassment campaign by a union, designed to interfere with our company’s operations,” although the workers, not a union, filed the federal complaint.

Offers of judgement are a legal mechanism similar to a settlement where the defending party allows judgement against them with a specified payment. If an offer is rejected, it can’t be used as evidence to determine costs at a later date, should that be needed.

Attorneys for United Electrical Contractors sent their offers on May 24, according to court records, and the employees accepted them on Monday.

Through those offers, United Electrical Contractors admitted liability for the claims, Richard Mack, an attorney for the workers, said in a release. The company also admitted liability for the “severely disparate treatment” and illegal termination, among others, he added.

Angienetta Allen is among those the company fired.

“I faced racial and sexual harassment and discrimination at UEC,” she said in the release. “I was then fired because of my complaints. UEC now admits its guilt in what happened to me. I’m hopeful that Black women in the trades, who may have faced what I have, can be encouraged that justice is available for racism and sexism, even if it takes a while.”

Detroit Free Press reporter Frank Witsil contributed to this story.

Contact reporter Matt Mencarini at 517-377-1026 or mjmencarini@lsj.com.

This article originally appeared on Lansing State Journal: Lansing company to pay more than $400K to resolve lawsuit over racism

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