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‘Boy, You Better be Running’: Black Virginia Man Alleges He Was Racially Harassed on the Job, His Boss Threatened to ‘Hunt Him Down’ When He Complained

A discrimination and wrongful termination lawsuit has been filed against a Lynchburg, Virginia, HVAC company, alleging that one of its workers was subjected to racial slurs and other bigoted threats while he was on the job.

The plaintiff says while working at the company he received threatening text messages from his co-workers — and despite the graphic nature of the correspondence, his employer never addressed it.

The lawsuit documents, obtained by Atlanta Black Star, claim he was terminated after complaining about the 2021 incidents to officials. A former plumbing apprentice for Southern Air, Adrian O’Neil Mitchell, is now suing the company for $5 million, according to ABC 13.

Mitchell, who is Black, says he was hired on Aug. 1, 2021, and a little over a month later, his site supervisor, who was white, started making offensive jokes and using the N-word with him.

After reporting the site supervisor to his higher-up, Mitchell’s lawsuit alleges his boss said — while “brandishing a weapon at Mr. Mitchell” — “If I got fired because of you, I know where you live and it won’t end well for you.”

By November 2021, the threats and bigoted language did not stop, and so Mitchell reached out to human resources. Still, nothing seemed to help, the claim states.

The complaint says after he reported the offenses, he started getting “suspended without pay at various points and eventually deemed terminated from employment.” He believes this was in retaliation.

Mitchell filed his recent claim through the Lynchburg Circuit Court, according to court documents, adding Southern Air is responsible “for racial discrimination, retaliation, wrongful termination, and suffering through a racially-charged hostile work environment” he experienced while employed with Southern Air, Inc.

According to Mitchell, while working for Southern Air, his site supervisor called him “heinous racial slurs.” He said one even threatened he was going to “hunt him down” and shoot “him in the head.” The manager said in one exchange, “boy, you better be running.”

He perceived the messages as a threat to his life, particularly as a Black man. Mitchell says in the claim he contacted the appropriate administrators to share what happened to him. However, no one did anything about it.

The complaint says on Dec. 9, 2021, Mitchell filed a charge of discrimination with both the Virginia Attorney General’s Office of Civil Rights and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Four months later, he was notified he could sue for discrimination based on the evidence he submitted to those offices.

Southern Air has since denied Mitchell’s claims, answering the lawsuit by saying no one knew about the threats. The plaintiff’s lawyers say they have evidence that Southern Air was aware of the discrimination.

“They said they hadn’t heard that before and they said that they heard that for the first time in the lawsuit,” Mr. Mitchell’s attorney, Thomas Strelka, said.

“We have texts between Mr. Mitchell and Southern Air that clearly indicate that that is not true,” Selka told ABC 13 this week.

In one text message submitted to the courts, an alleged Southern Air employee says, “The job site is big enough to where you guys can work separately.”

Mitchell responds, “I’m not forgiving him. He threatened me, my life twice said he’d kill me if something happens to his job.”

Mitchell added, “And threatened to hit me with a piece of pipe. I know my rights. I’m not working with anyone who threatened me and slander my name about me being a snitch.”

The Southern Air representative allegedly types back, “Our intention is to keep everyone working and obviously in a healthy work environment.”

In another screenshot of a redacted text exchange, Mitchell explains there have been multiple days that he was being threatened. In response, the person at the job told him, “From my understanding, today is the first day threats against your life were brought up. That’s what I was referring to.”

He debunked that version of events, saying, “I told XXXX the day of it happening via telephone call. He called me back.”

A third screenshot asked Mitchell, “We would like for you and XXXX to come in tomorrow to sit down and talk with us (XXXX & myself), so we put this past us. Can you meet us here at 8:30 am tomorrow morning?”

“I don’t feel like that’s for my best interest,” Mitchell responded. “He threatened me with bodily harm. You all want me to come in and shake hands or forgive him. Sorry, I can’t do that.”

According to ABC 13, Southern Air’s legal team, led by O’Hagan Meyer, declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying they did want to “jeopardize the legal process by saying any more.”

A trial is tentatively scheduled for November, and Mitchell’s attorneys are asking for the trial to be by jury.

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