Long Island Company Settles Racial Discrimination Lawsuit

By Douglas Lipsky

West Babylon-based A&F Fire Protection Co. Inc (A&F Fire) recently settled a race discrimination and retaliation lawsuit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The company, which designs and installs fire sprinkler systems, has agreed to pay $407,500 to cover lost wages and other damages awarded to a class of black and Hispanic employees. This case highlights why it is crucial for business owners to establish anti-discrimination policies and to implement procedures to address employee complaints.

The Backdrop

The EEOC filed a lawsuit in 2017 alleging A&F (1) discriminated against black and Hispanic employees over a period of years by subjecting them to the frequent use of slurs and (2) retaliated against employees who complained about unlawful discrimination.

The lawsuit documents incidents of discrimination from 2013 through 2015 where the company repeatedly allowed the use of racial epithets in the workplace. Moreover, the company did not remedy complaints of discrimination, including incidents where slurs were said in the owner’s presence. The EEOC claimed the minority employees were fired or forced out when they complained about the mistreatment.

In one instance, an African American assistant superintendent with the company learned that some subordinates and superiors used the code name “BBG” for “Big Black Gorilla” on their cellphones. In a meeting with some of them and the company owner, the superintendent called their phones the ringtones played gorilla sounds and announced the slur. The ringtones could still be heard even after the meeting.

The lawsuit also alleged that A&F’s owner ordered the superintendent to fire two othe employees who filed complaints with the EEOC about other instances of discrimination. After he refused to do so, the company converted him from salaried status to hourly, reduced his work hours, and barred him from working in the main office, eventually forcing him out.

In addition to the settlement payments, A&F Fire has agreed to take substantial corrective action by implementing training for employees and supervisors on federal employment discrimination laws and creating a revised anti-discrimination policy. The company has also agreed to the appointment of an equal opportunity employment coordinator, and the EEOC will monitor the company’s compliance with the terms of the settlement for 3 years.

Why This Matters

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) prohibits discrimination based on certain protected characteristics, including race and national origin. While discrimination is sometimes overt, many forms of race discrimination are subtle, including being subjected to racial/ethnic slurs, or making offensive comments based on race. It is important to note that workers in New York have even greater protections under the New York State Human Rights Law than those provided under Title VII. If you believe you have been subjected to racial discrimination in the workplace, you should enlist the services of an experienced employment discrimination attorney.

About the Author
Douglas Lipsky is a co-founding partner of Lipsky Lowe LLP. He has extensive experience in all areas of employment law, including discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, retaliation, wrongful discharge, breach of contract, unpaid overtime, and unpaid tips. He also represents clients in complex wage and hour claims, including collective actions under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and class actions under the laws of many different states. If you have questions about this article, contact Douglas today.