Black worker awarded $25 million in racial lawsuit

ArcelorMittal Steel Plant (Rick Gershon/Getty Images/AFP)
What is the cost of being subjected to years of racially-driven abuse? A federal jury ruled on Wednesday to award a black steelworker $25 million in damages because his former employers didn’t do enough to stop hate speech in the workplace.

Elijah Turley has been granted a substantially large settlement by a grand jury in Buffalo, New York after hearing a case that pitted the former steelworker at Lackawanna, NY’s ArcelorMittal plant with the company’s management.

While testifying before the jury, Turley told the court that he was repeatedly mocked and taunted by his colleagues with anti-black sentiments for years. During one occasion, claimed Turley, he found a stuffed monkey with a noose wrapped around its neck on his car in the company parking lot. Other times he said he was referred to as “monkey” or “boy” by his co-workers, who were also accused of leaving messages advertising the Ku Klux Klan on company grounds.

On their part, ArcelorMittal says that they did more than their fair share to be sure that the complaints were handled correctly and that they have a "zero tolerance policy for workplace discrimination or harassment".”

James R. Grasso, a lawyer for the company, told the jury that the company tried its best to handle allegations of discrimination but that in the end the blame was solely on the specific employees.

"The defendants did not actively participate in this conduct," Grasso told jurors, reports The Buffalo News. "They took reasonable steps to stop what was going on."

After years of ridicule, however, a federal jury agreed that management at the rust belt business failed to properly resolve the issue.

"This case is about the breakdown of a man," Turley’s attorney, Ryan J. Mills, told the jury. "He wanted to be treated equally, treated equally in a culture that hadn't changed since the '50s."

"It's absolutely shocking that a case like this is in court in 2012," Mr. Mills added in his closing arguments. "It should be viewed as atrocious and intolerable in a civilized society."

Attorneys representing the steel plant might appeal the verdict at a later date.