EEOC sues TNT Crane & Rigging for nooses, Nazi symbols in workplace

Dive Brief:

  • The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has sued Houston-based TNT Crane & Rigging, one of the largest crane service providers in the country, for race discrimination, harassment and retaliation, according to court documents filed in federal court Aug. 24. 
  • The suit alleges that TNT Crane & Rigging subjected four Black employees to a hostile work environment through the open display of nooses and lightning bolts associated with white supremacy, along with being subjected repeatedly to a derogatory term for Black people by White employees and managers.
  • A White employee who witnessed the harassment, nooses and lighting bolts and reported them to management also faced retaliation, the suit says, and eventually quit when his hours and pay were cut. 

Dive Insight:

The suit claims the White worker who eventually quit saw a noose tied by a coworker at the firm’s Dallas location, and another hung on a fence in its Fort Worth, Texas, yard in 2019. The four Black workers all became aware of the nooses during their employment, the suit alleges. 

When the White worker complained about the second noose, a branch manager said it was simply a “cowboy knot,” the suit said. In another instance, a different White worker complimented one of the Black workers for not being “lazy… like other [Black people],” but used a derogatory term instead. 

Lighting bolt “SS” stickers, emblematic of Nazi Germany’s special police force, also adorned cranes at the company’s Fort Worth yard, the suit alleged. 

G. Mark Jodon, an attorney in the Houston office of Littler who’s listed as TNT Crane & Rigging’s representative in court documents, did not immediately respond to email or phone requests seeking comment. According to TNT’s website, the firm has 40 branches throughout North America and more than 620 cranes. 

Widespread in construction

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas in Fort Worth, is the latest salvo from the employment agency against a construction firm following a May 2022 hearing that found racism and discrimination occur frequently on jobsites. 

“The allegations in this case echo the disturbing accounts shared during the EEOC’s recent hearing on discrimination and harassment in the construction industry,” said EEOC Chair Charlotte Burrows in a news release announcing the suit. “At a time when job opportunities in construction are rapidly growing thanks to historic federal investments, workers face significant harassment and discrimination that can prevent them from getting and keeping jobs in construction. The EEOC will continue to robustly enforce the law to ensure equal opportunity in the construction industry, and every industry.”

Under Burrows, who was appointed to EEOC’s chair by President Joe Biden in 2021, the agency has stepped up its focus on construction firms. It called out the industry by name as a sector of “particular concern” in its proposed strategic enforcement plan, and said construction stands out from other industries for “egregious incidents of harassment” in a report issued earlier this year.

EEOC’s suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages for the four Black employees. It seeks back pay, compensatory damages and punitive damages, as well as reinstatement or front pay for the White employee who eventually resigned.

The TNT suit follows an $80,000 judgment earlier this month against Coastal Drilling East, a Pennsylvania-based geotechnical construction services firm, for similar displays of nooses in the workplace, according to EEOC’s website.

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