A company that produces crushed stone and other construction materials is being sued for alleged racial discrimination by a black former employee who says a boss told him he hoped Oprah Winfrey’s home would burn down.
Patrick Bickham also maintains in his Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit that another supervisor for Vulcan Materials Co. told him he was “far to the right of Donald Trump.”
Bickham alleges he was fired after complaining about the alleged disparate treatment at Vulcan plants where he worked as a load operator for nearly 30 years, mostly in Sun Valley and later in Irwindale. He was fired in March and his suit, filed Wednesday, seeks unspecified damages.
A Vulcan spokesman did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Vulcan hired Bickham in April 1989 and he performed his job “in a reasonable and competent manner,” the suit states.
In 2007, a co-worker of Bickham’s sprayed the plaintiff with water, according to the suit. After the water-spraying incident, a Vulcan assistant manager wrote a draft memo asking that employees respect each others’ “heritage and race,” but those words were removed from the final document, the suit states. The deletions demonstrate a “systematic racism that was part of Vulcan’s workplace culture,” the suit states.
The same assistant manager once knocked Bickham’s papers out of his hands, but Vulcan “generally tolerated and even fostered the hostile work environment,” the suit states.
The comments by a boss that he hoped Winfrey’s home would burn down and the statement by the plant manager that he was to the political right of Trump were “racist comments … intended to intimidate and harass black employees such as plaintiff,” the suit states.
In contrast, white employees were given preferential treatment, including the first chances to earn overtime pay, the suit alleges.
Management wrongfully blamed Bickham after a traffic accident with a trash truck that was not his fault, the suit states. Additionally, his pay was reduced by $3 an hour after the work unit to which he was assigned closed, even though he performed the same duties of other employees in his new work area, the suit states.
Some personnel changes were made after Bickham sent an anonymous letter to Vulcan headquarters about the alleged discrimination suffered by black workers, but “the hostile work environment remained despite plaintiff’s protests,” the suit states. For example, a plant manager in 2015 “made jokes about (the) plaintiff liking chicken because his is black,” and someone placed a “free watermelon” sign by a time clock, the suit states.
“The watermelon stunt was racially motivated and contributed to the already existing work environment,” according to the suit.
Bickham was fired March 3 after a boss told him his failure to follow instructions caused an accident in which sand “avalanched” onto the side of the loader the plaintiff was driving, the suit states. The grounds given Bickham for his firing were a pretext because the plaintiff actually lost his job “in substantial part because he is black,” according to the suit.
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