Racial harassment complaints against Roadway Express for actions that took place at its Chicago Heights and Elk Grove Village locations were so involved they outlasted the company. Roadway recently merged with Yellow Transportation to form YRC, one of the nation’s largest freight haulers.
Now the new entity is on the hook for millions of dollars—and a big culture change courtesy of the EEOC.
To avoid a trial, YRC agreed to settle three separate lawsuits involving approximately 300 black employees at the two sites. The settlement agreement establishes a $10 million fund from which black employees who experienced on-the-job harassment can be paid.
According to the EEOC, black workers at both locations endured nooses placed in the workplace, racist graffiti and cartoons.
Had the case gone to trial, the EEOC was prepared to introduce evidence that black workers were subject to harsher discipline and given more difficult and time-consuming assignments. Black employees complained about the conditions for years, but nothing had changed.
The settlement makes plenty of demands on YRC in addition to paying out $10 million.
It calls for YRC to develop revised anti-harassment policies, keep all specific records required by law and report all harassment complaints. It must also conduct annual anti-harassment training. YRC must retain consultants to examine the company’s discipline and work assignment procedures and recommend changes to prevent racial disparities.
Finally, the decree requires the appointment of a monitor to oversee the company’s response to complaints and to report on the company’s compliance. The monitor will report semi-annually to both the court and to the EEOC.
Note: Continuing harassment complaints are the most recognizable symptom of a discriminatory company culture. Employers that spot this pattern must intervene massively to change behavior and put the offenders on notice that harassment must stop. Professionally and fairly handling complaints and handing out meaningful punishments when harassers are identified will go a long way to changing the culture.