U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Federal Agency Charges Racist Comments and Graffiti in the Worksite
DALLAS - Hillshire Brands Company (formerly known as the Sara Lee Corporation) violated federal law by subjecting a class of African-American employees to a racially hostile work environment, including racially offensive graffiti and comments at the workplace, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charged in a lawsuit it filed today.
Chicago-headquartered Hillshire Brands is a large food company that owns brands like Tyson, Jimmy Dean and Sara Lee. In November 2011, the facility in Paris, Texas was sold by Sara Lee. In 2012, Sara Lee began using the name "The Hillshire Brands Company" in connection with its North American operations.
According to EEOC's suit (Civil Action No. 2:15-cv-01347) in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas), a class of about 70 black employees was subjected to racist graffiti including racial epithets, drawings and other racist symbols scrawled on the bathroom walls of the Sara Lee plant in Paris. EEOC alleges that some of the African-American employees were also called racial slurs by a supervisor and other white co-workers. EEOC's investigation found that Sara Lee officials ignored the complaints of the black employees about unfair treatment in the plant.
Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Marshall Division, after first attempting a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. A private suit alleging race discrimination, hostile work environment and discriminatory job assignments on behalf of many of the former Sara Lee workers is currently pending in the same court.
"Racial harassment unfortunately remains a persistent problem in the 21st century, more than 50 years after passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964," said EEOC Dallas Regional Attorney Robert A. Canino. "The bad seeds of racial animus planted in the workplace cannot be allowed to spread over time and to choke out mutual respect on the job. Racism must be uprooted by decisive action to cultivate equal opportunity."
In addition to monetary damages for the class of African-Americans affected by the hostile environment at Sara Lee, EEOC seeks injunctive relief, including the formulation of policies to prevent and correct race discrimination.
EEOC Trial Attorney Meaghan Shepard said, "We hope to see Sara Lee and Hillshire Brands take effective steps to address racial harassment in its plants. Racism doesn't disappear by ignoring it. Sara Lee failed to adequately protect its black employees from a racially hostile work environment."
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.