Civil Rights & Constitutional Law
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June 13, 2015
CLEVELAND, OHIO - Today, Charlie J. Wilson, Jr. and Luis Reyes filed suit for racial harassment, wrongful discharge, and retaliation, against Gardner Denver Nash LLC-their former employer, service-center manager Rick Kushinski, human-resources manager Kristen Fields, and two service technicians: Donald Sedelak and Christopher Taylor.
Mr. Wilson and Mr. Reyes allege that they endured a discriminatory and racially hostile environment while working at Gardner Denver's service center in Westlake, Ohio. For instance, Mr. Reyes heard other employees-including Chris Taylor and Don Sedelak-repeatedly and casually use the "n-word." And Rick Kushinski made sure that non-white employees did not congregate on the floor, while allowing groups with at least one white employee to assemble.
The plaintiffs allege that Taylor and Sedelak targeted Mr. Reyes, who is of Puerto Rican heritage, with prejudiced comments linked to his ethnicity, such as bogus accusations of Mr. Reyes stealing. One time, when Mr. Reyes spoke Spanish to an electrician, Taylor interjected: "Stop speaking that fucking gibberish" and added words to the effect, "If you want to speak that, go back to your country." (Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory.) Mr. Reyes reported the comments to his group leader and then in turn to Kushinski, who promised to have handled the situation-but in fact did nothing but inform Taylor that Mr. Reyes had reported his comments. Taylor responded by attempting to intimidate the much smaller Reyes.
Mr. Wilson and Mr. Reyes allege that Sedelak called Mr. Reyes a "pump nigger," which Mr. Wilson overheard. When Mr. Wilson told Kushinski about Sedelak's racist remark, Kushinski admitted that Sedelak had used the n-word before and, again, offered assurances that he would take action. But instead of taking proper remedial action, Gardner Denver managers turned their attention to Mr. Reyes, suspending him three days after a pretextual allegation by Sedelak that Mr. Reyes had been engaging in "horseplay" with dry ice. (Mr. Reyes had explained that he stepped on a water bottle, and its top popped off.)
Later, in a conversation with Mr. Reyes, the complaint alleges, Sedelak referred to Mr. Wilson as "a whiny little f—-" for reporting Sedelak's use of the n-word. Sedelak went on to use the n-word multiple times attempting to defend his use of the racial slur. When Mr. Reyes discovered that his phone's voice recorder had inadvertently recorded these most-recent remarks, he and Mr. Wilson presented the recording to Kushinski. But Kushinksi made it clear to Mr. Wilson that he would not take action against Sedelak, which forced Mr. Wilson to leave what had become an intolerable work environment. And only one day after reporting Sedelak's latest remarks, Gardner Denver fired Mr. Reyes-who recently had a strong performance evaluation-for supposedly "stirring the pot."
"It's 2015 and we live in Cleveland. The casual use of the n-word-a deeply offensive racial epithet-at Gardner Denver's suburban Cleveland operation, and management's apparent indifference, violated Mr. Reyes's and Mr. Wilson's right to workplace free of racial harassment and discrimination," said Subodh Chandra, Mr. Reyes's and Mr. Wilson's lead counsel. "Instead of riding Mr. Reyes and Wilson out of the workplace, Gardner Denver should have protected them."
The suit, captioned Wilson, et al. v. Gardner Denver Nash LLC, et al., was filed in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas. Subodh Chandra, Sandhya Gupta, and Patrick Haney are counsel for the plaintiffs.