The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is suing a construction company, accusing it of racism towards black employees while working on a Google data center in Tennessee.

The EEOC has filed a lawsuit against the Whiting-Turner Contracting Company, alleging it violated federal civil rights laws by subjecting Black laborers to “a racially hostile work environment” and then fired some of them after they complained about the harassment.

Montgomery Court house, Clarksville Tennessee
– Thinkstock

Whiting-Turner is a construction management and general contracting company headquartered in Baltimore, Maryland. According to its portfolio page, it has worked on a number of data center projects including facilities for IBM, Bexar, and the University of Florida.

According to the EEOC’s suit, from at least May 2018 through to fall 2019 while Whiting-Turner worked as a general contractor on the Google data center in Clarksville, Tennessee, Black laborers were referred to as “boy,” “m----f-----” and “you.” Portable toilets on the construction site were reportedly covered in racially offensive graffiti.

“Although Black employees reported these issues to Whiting-Turner on several occasions, Whiting-Turner failed to investigate the complaints and then terminated two employees after they complained of the discrimination,” said the EEOC, which violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibiting discrimination based on race and protects workers from retaliation for complaining about it.

“Employers who allow widespread racial harassment and punish victims for exercising their right to oppose such behavior violate federal law,” said Edmond Sims, acting district director of the EEOC’s Memphis District Office. “The EEOC will continue its mission to prevent and remedy unlawful employment discrimination and advance equal opportunity for all in the workplace.”

The Charlotte Observer added more detail, saying at least two Black men were placed at the site through a temporary staffing agency and subsequently assigned to an “all-Black sub-crew” that was frequently given the most physically challenging and least-desirable jobs.

According to the complaint, they were told to “get ya black asses back to work.” When one of the employees complained to a supervisor, he was reportedly told to “let it go” because the White crew leader was “old-fashioned.”

Racist graffiti in the toilets reportedly referenced the KKK and white power, with Whiting-Turner accused of failing to investigate the complaints before firing the staff who complained.

The EEOC has filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, Nashville Division (EEOC v. The Whiting-Turner Contracting Company, Case No. 3:21-cv-00753) seeking monetary compensation and to prevent future harassment and retaliation.

The EEOC said it had previously attempted to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. DCD has reached out to Whiting-Turner for comment.

Google opened its $600 million Clarksville data center in 2019. The company first announced plans for a facility in 2015, but didn’t break ground on the project until 2018.

In the latest issue of DCD Magazine, we examine how Google treats its temporary and contracted employees within its data centers differently from its full-time employees, and talk to Shannon Wait about how she was fired then reinstated for complaining about the disparity between staff.

Download the magazine here.

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