EEOC Wins $4M for Black Employees Who Were Racially Abused, Subjected to Hazardous Conditions at Former Sara Lee Plant

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Former employees of the Sara Lee plant in Paris, Texas.
Former employees of the Sara Lee plant in Paris, Texas.

Attorneys for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently announced a record settlement against a plant formerly owned by the Sara Lee Corporation.

According to a press release by the EEOC, Hillshire Brands (formerly known as the Sara Lee Corporation) has been ordered to pay $4 million to 74 Black workers at a Paris, Texas plant. The Black employees said they were racially harassed by supervisors and managers. They were also subject to racist graffiti including the n-word and images of Black people as apes and Black people hanging from nooses.

“The Commission completed an extensive investigation at the Sara Lee plant, which included conducting interviews with the former bakery workers,” said Meaghan L. Shepard, trial attorney for the Dallas District of EEOC. “EEOC determined racial slurs and graffiti continued at the facility in Paris for years, until the doors finally closed in November 2011.”

EEOC attorneys said it was the responsibility of employers to protect their workers from this kind of abuse.

“EEOC strongly believes it is critically important for companies to set policies and provide effective avenues for complaints to address racial harassment in the workplace,” said EEOC Supervisory Trial Attorney Suzanne Anderson. “African-American workers on the Sara Lee bakery production lines in Paris felt embarrassed and intimidated by the graffiti in the bathroom and the racial slurs on the production floor. Strong corporate policies and quick remedial action protects against this type of workplace discrimination.”

Apart from enduring a hostile work environment, the EEOC investigation found the Black employees were also exposed to mold, asbestos and other toxins. According to the EEOC several Black workers fell ill and were diagnosed with cancer, but management ignored their complaints.

“Several of the black employees have since died of cancer or other diseases caused by an environmentally toxic environment,” said the EEOC.

Apart from being subject to a financial judgment, Hillshire Brands was also ordered to follow a two-year consent decree that implements preventative measures to workplace discrimination. The company will also have to provide periodic reports to the EEOC. Tyson, the new owner of the plant, said it would not tolerate workplace discrimination.

“We’re committed to treating our team members with dignity and respect and have a policy against harassment and discrimination,” said Tyson in an emailed statement.

Although workplace discrimination is a common occurrence, a report by the Brookings Institute says how people interpret it may have a lot to do with their political leanings.

According to an article by Rachel Lienesch and Betsy Cooper, Democrats are more likely to believe that discrimination against Black people and Latinos is a problem than Republicans. The Brookings Institute report stated 80 percent of Democrats were more likely than Republicans (46 percent) and tea party members (44 percent) to say Blacks face a lot of discrimination. However, 36 percent of Republicans and 45 percent of tea party members believe that white people also suffered a lot of discrimination. Only 16 percent of Democrats shared the same belief.

The Brooking Institute cited statistics from the Public Religion Research Institute’s 2015 American Values Survey.

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