Lawsuit: Company used racial slurs

Contributed photoAn aerial view of the Lafarge Cement Plant.

RAVENA — A federal lawsuit filed Tuesday alleges that black contractors were subjected to racial discrimination and harassment at the Lafarge Ravena Cement Plant by the Texas subcontractor CCC Group in 2016 when the plant was undergoing a three-year modernization project.

No allegations of wrongdoing were made against Lafarge. The CCC Group is the sole defendant named in the lawsuit.

"We find the allegations against CCC contracting to be very concerning," Lafarge company spokeswoman Jocelyn M. Gerst said Friday. "Lafarge and its parent company, LafargeHolcim, take all claims of discrimination of any kind very seriously. We follow a business code of conduct and investigate and take action on all complaints that are brought to our attention."

The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed suit against CCC Group, a Texas-based industrial construction company that performed work at Lafarge. The company’s corporate headquarters is in San Antonio.

The suit alleges the company fostered a racist work environment in which white supervisors and employees used racial slurs and threatened black employees with suggestions of lynching.

The racial harassment is alleged to have occurred at the Lafarge plant, located on Route 9W in Coeymans, between May and November of 2016.

Jason C. Zehner, general counsel for CCC Group, categorically denied the allegations.

White employees bragged that their ancestors owned slaves and told a black employee he walked funny because slaves used to walk with a bag on their shoulders picking cotton, according to the lawsuit.

One white supervisor allegedly attempted to snare an employee with a noose, the EEOC said.

The EEOC is seeking compensatory damages and punitive damages for the affected employees.

The federal complaint alleges that another white supervisor told an African-American employee that they could wear a noose for Halloween.

“You don’t even have to dress up. I will dress in white and put a noose around your neck and we’ll walk down the street together,” the supervisor is alleged to have said.

The lawsuit also claims that black employees were given more physically taxing and dangerous work than their white counterparts at Lafarge, including being assigned outdoor work in winter while white colleagues worked inside.

The racial harassment persisted after black employees complained and objected to the abuses and threats, the EEOC said.

None of the defendants named in the lawsuit are from Ravena or Coeymans. The plaintiff is a contractor from Alabama, according to the EEOC.

Zehner declined to comment on the specifics of the complaint, noting that the lawsuit is still pending.

“Nonetheless, at CCC Group we are proud that equal employment opportunity is not just our employment policy, but it is our firmly held commitment to value and protect all employees by providing a work environment free of unlawful harassment and discrimination,” Zehner said.

The racial discrimination and harassment is alleged to have taken place during the multi-million dollar overhaul of Lafarge’s manufacturing facility, which was done between 2015 and 2017. The overhaul included construction of new, energy-efficient cement kilns.

The upgrades to the Ravena cement plant were performed by several subcontractors, including CCC Group. The project generated approximately 800 contract construction jobs, according to a statement from LafargeHolcim, the parent company of Lafarge.

Lafarge plant manager Dave Fletcher did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Ravena Mayor William Misuraca condemned the allegations against CCC Group.

“If the allegations are true, they have no place in our community,” Misuraca said. “If true, I hope there are appropriate sanctions. We don’t welcome companies like that to our area.”

The Lafarge cement plant is located in the town of Coeymans despite being called the Ravena plant, Misuraca said.

Coeymans Town Supervisor George McHugh declined to comment, except to say all the contractors who worked on the Lafarge kiln project were from outside the area.

The EEOC filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, after first attempting to reach a settlement through a federal conciliation process.

CCC Group has until August to formally answer the allegations. The company’s first federal court appearance is scheduled for Sept. 1.

Jeffrey Burstein, regional attorney for the EEOC’s New York District Office, said the misconduct described in the suit violates federal law and common decency.

“Employers need to proactively prevent any behavior that creates a racially hostile workplace,” Burstein said.

The EEOC is the federal agency responsible for enforcing federal anti-discrimination laws. The agency has the authority to investigate charges of discrimination against employers and file suit if attempts to settle the charge are unsuccessful.

“When deciding to file a lawsuit, the EEOC considers several factors such as the strength of the evidence, the issues in the case, and the wider impact the lawsuit could have on the EEOC’s efforts to combat workplace discrimination,” according the EEOC website.

Nora Mishanec is a reporter for Columbia-Greene Media. She can be reached at nmishanec@columbiagreenemedia.com or 518-828-1616 ext. 2500.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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