A Fayette Circuit Court jury awarded $5.3 million in damages to eight black men who had filed a 2014 lawsuit alleging a hostile work environment at UPS in Lexington.
“The verdict of the jury maybe will change things at UPS, because they really need change,” said UPS tractor-trailer driver William Barber, 54, a plaintiff who continues to be employed by the company. “...We hope UPS sees this and addresses the situation.”
“It was a relief to know that the jury, our peers, sat and listened and found in our favor,” said Donald Ragland, 63, another plaintiff, who is now retired. “You go up against a big corporation like UPS, usually you get smacked in the face again.”
The damage amount is thought to be one of the largest returned in a discrimination suit in Fayette County, said Luke Morgan, who represented the eight plaintiffs with Stephen Amato and David Guarnieri.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
The jury also found that UPS had discriminated against one of the eight, and that UPS had retaliated against two men after they complained.
Susan Rosenberg, spokeswoman at the UPS corporate office in Atlanta, said the company “is obviously disappointed with the jury’s decision. ...We’re going to consider options for appeal.”
UPS has “strict policies against harassment and discrimination,” Rosenberg said. “We reinforce that there will be no retaliation when concerns are raised.”
The jury awarded $1.5 million for emotional and mental distress to Barber. In addition, the jury awarded $1 million to David Young, $810,000 to Glenn Jackson, $800,000 to John Hughes, $500,000 each to Ragland and Jeffrey Goree, and $100,000 each to Curtis Weathers and Lamont Brown. The amounts were for emotional and mental distress, according to the court record.
The jury was instructed to find a hostile work environment only if the men had been subjected to racial harassment at UPS and if the harassment was “severe and pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would find hostile or abusive.”
Testimony was heard and evidence was introduced at trial that an effigy of a black UPS driver was hung from the ceiling for four days.
The lawsuit says that a UPS manager made a dummy in a UPS uniform that hung from the ceiling from Aug. 9 to Aug. 13, 2012.
The dummy’s hands and one foot were tied to a ladder to demonstrate the “three points of contact” that employees should have when using a ladder. Twine was tied around the dummy’s neck and to the ceiling to “prevent the dummy from falling forward,” the lawsuit says UPS claimed.
Barber said he saw the effigy when he reported to work at 3 a.m. He said the effigy “looked like a UPS man hanging. I wear the brown suit. I wear the brown cap. I got the brown face. For me to come in at 3 o’clock in the morning and see that, it wasn’t a good feeling. It hurt me real bad. ... My white friends came to me and told me, ‘I’m sorry you had to look at that.’”
There was also testimony about racially hostile words used in the workplace, including “jungle bunny,” “porch monkey” and the n-word, Morgan said.
The jury also found that Barber had suffered an “adverse employment action,” that race was a motivating factor in that action, and that Barber was treated less favorably than “similarly situated” employees of other races.
The employees said in the lawsuit that after they went to human resources with their concerns, they were retaliated against by managers who did “extended ride-alongs” on their routes “as a subtle means to intimidate and punish the plaintiffs for raising these issues.”
The jury found that UPS had retaliated against Jackson and Ragland when the two men complained about racial issues in the workplace. But the jury found that UPS had not retaliated against the other six men.
The men claimed in the lawsuit that they had “endured severe and pervasive comments, intimidation, ridicule and insults while working at UPS.”
Rosenberg, the UPS spokeswoman, said it is a part of corporate training and practice “to have the workplace free of discrimination and harassment. We’ve got a variety of avenues for employees to raise concerns, and we address them and investigate them when they are raised. We expect our managers to follow all the UPS policies for fairness and to treat employees with respect.”
Goree, Hughes, Young and Weathers, as well as Barber, continue to work for UPS, Morgan said.
Asked how he can continue to work at UPS, Barber said: “If I quit, quitting doesn’t fix anything.”
The verdicts were returned before 2 a.m. Thursday after about eight hours of deliberations. The trial began April 4 before Judge Ernesto Scorsone.