Lawyers on behalf of seven former or current railroad engineers at the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles are suing Pacific Harbor Line Inc., its parent company and two managers for alleged race discrimination, harassment, hostile work environment and retaliation against Black workers, but the railroad said Tuesday that the claims are baseless.
The plaintiffs — six of whom are Black — are current and former railroad engineers with seven to 18 years of tenure with PHL and Anacostia Rail Holdings Co. at the ports.
Six plaintiffs filed their lawsuit Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court and one plaintiff filed his complaint in federal court the same day.
A PHL spokesman said Tuesday evening that the company examined the allegations and found them baseless.
“Anytime an allegation is made by or against one of our employees, we investigate the claims and take appropriate action,” according to the company statement.
“In this case, we scrutinized the claims made previously by these plaintiffs, and found them to be lacking in merit. Accordingly, we will vigorously defend ourselves against this suit and fully expect to be vindicated.”
PHL said it encourages employees to always make their voices heard when they feel any kind of discrimination or inappropriate conduct is directed at them.
“Each and every allegation will be heard and appropriately processed, and we will continue to look for ways to ensure that every PHL worker feels safe and comfortable in her or his workplace,” the company stated.
“Our number one priority at PHL is to provide a safe workplace — whether that is physical safety or emotional safety — for all of our near-200 employees.”
According to the lawsuit, throughout their employment with PHL and Anacostia, the plaintiffs and their colleagues have allegedly been subject to racial slurs, exposed to chalk-drawn graffiti on a bridge in the rail yard including threatening imagery, images of Black men hanging, and chalk-drawn racist slogans.
The abuse allegedly intensified with the arrival of new management in 2009. PHL managers repeatedly turned a blind eye to the conduct — when they were not participating in it directly, the suits allege.
“I filed this lawsuit because I do not want the next generation of Black workers to have to go through what I went through,” said plaintiff Monte Chandler, a 16-year engineer at the ports.
“My co-workers hung nooses where I could see them and pelted me with bottles. They terrorized and humiliated me, and when I spoke up it only got worse.”
Plaintiff Joshua Jones, who worked for seven years as a ports engineer, added, “I want to see PHL and Anacostia held accountable for their horrendous treatment of Black employees.”
The lawsuits allege that the racism was so persistent it literally became part and parcel of Black workers’ jobs at PHL and Anacostia. Black workers were disciplined and fired at higher rates, and hired and promoted at lower rates, than their white counterparts, the complaints allege.
“We are outraged that nothing has been done to stop this despicable conduct,” said civil rights attorney Dan Stormer, whose firm filed the lawsuits.
“This abusive, racist behavior cannot be allowed to continue, and these workers intend to put a stop to it.”
Among the Black plaintiffs specifically, the plaintiffs allege that two were fired, two were forced to resign, and one was forced to resign from his position in management by the sheer level of racist hostility in the workplace.
Those who stood up for their rights allegedly suffered retaliation: Non-Black workers who spoke out for their Black colleagues allegedly were shunned and insulted. The dwindling number of Black workers at PHL tells the story of an employer that has become, over time, utterly hostile to Black people in the workplace, the suits allege.
Managers who knew about, tolerated and participated in the hostile environment remain in their positions, including the two managers being sued, plaintiffs allege.