Federal Court Awards Black Man $2.4M for Enduring Five Years of Racial, Sexual Harassment from Latino Co-Workers

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os-mears-settles-hiv-discrimination-lawsuit-20141008A Chicago federal court has awarded a Black man more than $2.4 million in damages for enduring five years of humiliating sexual and racial harassment at a South Side grocery store.

The Cook County Record stated that Rosebud Farmstand was ordered to pay Robert Smith more than $800,000 in compensatory damages and $1.6 million in punitive damages for racial and sexual harassment. Smith also named two supervisors, general manager Carlos Castaneda and assistant manager Rocky Mendoza, in the lawsuit. They were both ordered to pay damages.

Smith, who worked as a butcher at the grocery store, claims he was subjected to abuse from his Latino co-workers. Smith said that his co-workers harassed him by grabbing his genitals, fondling his buttocks and simulating homoerotic acts.

However, the harassment was not only sexual. Smith’s attorney Joseph Longo, of Longo & Associates, said his co-workers also called him a “monkey” and told him to “go back to Africa.”

Smith filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2008, but the harassment turned violent. The Cook County Record said Smith alleged his co-workers made threatening gestures towards him and also vandalized his car. The harassment got so bad that Smith eventually quit.

Smith decided to file a lawsuit requesting unspecified damages in 2011.

Longo said other Black employees at the grocery store were also subject to harassment, but declined to come forward. He said victims of racial and sexual harassment have to report the incidents, so they can be addressed in a court of law.

“Unless people file a lawsuit or take action, harassers will continue to create a hostile working environment and harass,” Longo said in an emailed statement following the verdict. “We need more people like Mr. Smith to take a stand and fight for what is right. The jury agreed that what Rosebud did to Mr. Smith was wrong.”

Longo told The Chicago Daily Law Bulletin that Smith’s employer failed to provide a safe work environment. Eight jurors agreed with Longo’s argument.

“I think the jury wanted to send a message,” Longo said. “When you go to work, you don’t surrender your body.”

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