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VOL. 129 | NO. 152 | Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Cotton Gin Workers Sue for Racial Harassment

By Bill Dries

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Three workers at Memphis Cotton Gin and Federal Compress filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday, Aug. 5, against the owners of a South Memphis cotton warehouse and the company that manages the warehouse.

The suit is over racial harassment including allegations of racially segregated break rooms, water fountains and bathrooms as well as equipment at the warehouse including forklifts.

The lawsuit filed by the three African-American workers against Atkinson Cotton Warehouse, Planters Gin Co. of Memphis Inc. and Federal Compress & Warehouse Co. Inc. seeks mandatory training on discrimination for all employees and future monitoring of the business as well as “appropriate compensation” to black employees affected.

The three employees, Untonia Harris, Marrio Mangrum and Vashone Ford, came to work at the warehouse at 1824 Castalia St. in August and September of 2013. They were each fired from January to May of this year after reporting the conditions to supervisors.

“The racism was so open that Mr. Harris questioned, along with Mr. Mangrum and Mr. Ford, whether anyone would even believe their concerns – or accuse them of exaggerating the working conditions – without first-hand evidence,” the lawsuit reads.

That’s when Harris began recording audio at the warehouse using his smartphone, according to the lawsuit.

“The work environment at the cotton warehouse was allowed to become saturated with overt racial discrimination and harassment against African Americans generally, the plaintiffs specifically,” according to the lawsuit.

That included enforcement of the racially segregated facilities and equipment at the warehouse.

“Additionally, the harassment based upon race included disparaging and inflammatory comments including referring to the plaintiffs as ‘colored boys’, ‘blackboys’, ‘nappy headed boys’, ‘damn monkeys’ and similarly disparaging racial comments,” the lawsuit adds. “Additionally, the harassment based upon race included statements suggesting plaintiffs were an inferior race because, no matter what, they could ‘never wash the black off.’”

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