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Racism at the Airlines Part 2 - Northwest must pay

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Racism at the Airlines Part 2 - Northwest must pay

Old 12th Apr 2001, 19:34
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Unhappy Racism at the Airlines Part 2 - Northwest must pay

Racial insults to cost Northwest
Airline agrees to federal oversight, $300,000 payment

By David Shepardson / The Detroit News

ROMULUS -- The federal government will monitor Northwest Airlines for at least two years to ensure it more closely investigates employee complaints of racial harassment, according to a proposed lawsuit settlement.
Northwest has agreed to the federal oversight and strict conditions to monitor complaints of employee harassment at Detroit Metropolitan Airport or risk sanctions from the court, including federal fines, a person close to the negotiations told The News. In addition, airline employees' complaints will get more detailed attention, and workers will get racial sensitivity training.
The lawsuit settlement stems from a series of incidents in 1995 at Metro Airport. At Northwest's cargo facility, a noose was hung in the cargo workers' lunchroom and a Michigan Militia recruitment poster in the warehouse carried a racial slur.
Those and other incidents prompted cargo customer service manager Gloria Hamilton to file a complaint with the federal Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, claiming she was bypassed for promotion in favor of a white employee.
That in turn prompted the federal lawsuit against Northwest. Hamilton will receive $300,000 from the airline as part of the settlement. No one else who alleged harassment will receive any payments.
Employment experts say the settlement's effectiveness will depend on the airline's willingness to carry it out. "It takes a major commitment from the top to change the corporate culture in dealing with racial harassment," said Rutgers Law Professor Alfred Blumrosen, an employment law expert.
Robert Sedler, a Wayne State University law professor, said the proposed agreement was a good one. "This has teeth. This is a very effective way of ensuring both monitoring and reporting."
Hamilton, who joined the airline's Detroit staff in 1967, did not return calls for her reaction to the settlement. Other airline employees said Northwest would not allow them to comment.
This isn't the first time Northwest has been the focus of a racial harassment lawsuit. In 1991, Northwest paid more than $4 million to settle claims that it had discriminated against some black employees in hiring practices around the country.
Just this past July, there was another unrelated racial incident at the airport. Two construction workers found a noose at the midfield terminal. Northwest said at the time it didn't tolerate racial harassment on the part of its contractors.
The airline and employment commission could file a consent decree, outlining the settlement details, by April 30, according to court papers filed Monday by the airline and the employment commission. Northwest spokeswoman Kathy Peach declined to comment on the agreement's details. The EEOC also would not comment.

Long court battle
Hamilton's complaint to the employment commission in 1995 was the start of a years-long court battle, including the government lawsuit against Northwest a year later, on behalf of Hamilton and others.
A judge initially threw the lawsuit out of court, but in September 1999, a federal Appeals Court panel unanimously ordered the case to go to trial.
"Clearly the presence of nooses and Ku Klux Klan symbols in the workplace, if ignored by Northwest, is the type of discriminatory conduct that might warrant (court action)," the Appeals Court wrote.
Northwest sought to settle the case several times in exchange for a confidential agreement, court records show.
In a proposed settlement in 1997, the federal agency asked Northwest to pay $300,000 to Hamilton, promote her, and offer her back pay.
Northwest responded by offering a $5,000 settlement and then a $30,000 payment, along with giving Hamilton a promotion. In August 1997, the company offered her a higher position -- even if she continued pursuing her case.
The commission in 1997 also proposed Northwest accept monitoring of conditions at its Detroit cargo area for three years. The airline countered with a year of monitoring and unannounced inspections, but no deal was reached with the government.
The settlement that could be announced this week is far stronger than the previous proposals.
The new agreement will require monitoring of all employees and all Northwest operations at Metro airport. It will require the company to establish new investigative procedures for responding to employee complaints and will require the company to notify the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission when there is a complaint.
The agreement will provide for fines and other sanctions if the airline does not comply. It will also allow the agency to make unannounced visits to inspect facilities and see if employees are free from harassment.

No action by supervisors
Back in 1995, Hamilton documented the harassment, taking pictures of the offensive signs and noose and turning over office e-mail to the federal commission. She said superiors didn't respond when she and other employees told them about the incidents, including a Sambo drawing placed in a work area she shared with three white managers.
Northwest employee Steve Dyer reported seeing a KKK symbol in a restroom and graffiti that referred to the Million Man March as the "Million Monkey March." Another wall writing contained another racial slur. Dyer said he told his supervisor, who allegedly did nothing.
Another black Northwest employee, Willie Jones, said a co-worker showed him a picture of gorillas in a tree and asked if it was his family tree.
Northwest labeled these as "isolated offensive acts" in court records.
In September 1995, a manager wrote to employees ordering harassment to cease, including "writing graffiti on an employee's locker." He added: "Someone put several nails and screws into three of four tires of an employee's car. I realize that we have someone within our group who is capable of doing such a thoughtless and hostile act."
The company noted that after the Michigan Militia sign with the racial slur went up, manager Frank Sundquist verbally warned all employees that it had offended some people and such conduct would not be tolerated.
But the airline wasn't notified about the noose incident until seven months later. The company acknowledged that a worker was disciplined in 1992 when another noose was found at Detroit Metro.
In the Northwest case in 1991, the airline agreed to a five-year monitoring period as part of the consent agreement that covered workplace hiring -- not harassment.
As part of its total payment, Northwest spent $1.2 million on cultural diversity training for its executives and set goals on minority hiring.
Hamilton shared in that settlement because she had been denied a promotion in 1988. That consent decree was extended by a year after a federal judge said Northwest hadn't complied with the entire agreement.


Settlement highlights
* Northwest Airlines agrees to at least two years of monitoring by the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission.
* The airline will provide new sensitivity training to its employees based at Detroit Metropolitan Airport.
* Northwest must establish a new investigative procedure to respond to employee complaints of harassment.
* The carrier must pay $300,000 to an African-American employee who said she found a noose at her workplace.

A history of problems
Northwest Airlines has been sued at least four times by the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission over the past decade. Its employees and contractors say they have found nooses in three separate incidents in the past six years.
August 1991: Northwest agrees to settle a race discrimination lawsuit filed in 1989 by hundreds of black employees who claimed they were discriminated against by the airline, and agrees to five years of monitoring. Under the decree, Northwest spends $3.5 million to increase hiring and promotion opportunities for black employees and pays more than $535,000 in damages to employees.
January 1996: The commission files suit in Detroit on behalf of Gloria Hamilton, a cargo customs manager, after a noose was hung in the cargo workers' lunchroom in 1995.
January 2000: The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission files a lawsuit against Northwest after a Filipino-American mechanic reported finding a noose in his locker at San Francisco Airport.
July 2000: Two African-American construction workers at Detroit Metro Airport's midfield terminal project find a hangman's noose while inspecting the terminal building. The workers are employed by BEI Associates. Northwest pledges that the airline "does not tolerate any form of harassment or discrimination and we believe we share that commitment with the contractors working on the midfield terminal project."
October 2000: Northwest settles the San Francisco suit, promising to improve training for employees
April: Northwest says in a court filing that it expects to settle a 5-year-old federal lawsuit in Detroit by April 30.

Source: U.S. District Court, Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, Northwest Airlines

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