In what is being called the largest discrimination case in 20 years, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) launched a major lawsuit against The Industrial Co. (TIC), charging racial discrimination in its construction business. In the case, filed in U.S. District Court in New Orleans in June, the commission charges that TIC, which operates in more than seven states, has been racially biased in its hiring and recruiting practices, with an estimated 600 African American construction workers not being given fair employment opportunities.
The case stems from a series of complaints filed by five African Americans in construction trade positions: David Dunn, Michael Brooks, and Willie Brooks in 1994, and Shedrick Winfield and Kevin Gautier in 1997.
In 1994, David Dunn and Michael Brooks were working for KCI (now Kellogg Brown & Root) on a large construction project involving several companies. As the men completed the work for Kellogg, their supervisor told them that he had recommended them to TIC for another phase of the project, said Dunn, one of the aggrieved parties. When the men reported to the TIC work site, they were told there were no jobs, but TCI falsely reported to KCI that Dunn and Michael Brooks had been given jobs, according to Dunn. Dunn and Michael Brooks were later told by other workers that there were about 90 welders working at the site, but that none of them were African American.
When the EEOC began to investigate the group’s charges, it found a pattern of nationwide discrimination at TIC, said Gregory T. Juge, the lead trial attorney for the EEOC. TIC’s construction operations involve more than $500 million in contracts in California, Oregon, Missouri, Minnesota, Wyoming, and Texas, in addition to Louisiana, and employs more than 5,000 people nationwide.
The district office of the EEOC in New Orleans brought the case to the attention of the national office, and the commissioners voted unanimously to take the case, said Juge. Dunn and his fellow workers were named among the aggrieved parties. The case is expected to take between two and five years to litigate, and according to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was amended in 1991, penalties against TIC can be as high as $300,000 in compensatory and punitive damages, as well as any lost wages, plus interest, for the discriminatory period for each of the aggrieved parties identified, said Juge.
Construction is big business in Louisiana. Annual receipts top $11.7 billion, and more than 107,000 people are employed in the industry. Construction also supports the petroleum refinery and petrochemical industries, where Louisiana is second only to Texas as a production and refining state.
“Numbers [of African Americans employed in construction] are lower than they should be,” said Bob Stroup of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. “There has been a lot of litigation in this area involving both unions and employers. There has been resistance to entry of African Americans,” he said.
Often construction jobs involve both skilled and unskilled work, but generally the jobs don’t require a