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EEOC, YRC/Yellow Transportation settle allegations of egregious race bias for $11 million

An $11 million consent decree was entered in federal court in Chicago on June 29 in settlement of a race harassment and discrimination lawsuit brought against a major transportation company, according the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity (EEOC). The suit filed by the EEOC against Yellow Transportation, Inc. and YRC, Inc. asserted that the company subjected African-American employees at its Chicago Ridge, Illinois facility to a racially hostile working environment and discriminatory terms and conditions of employment. Yellow Transportation operated the facility until its merger with Roadway Express, when the two companies combined operations to form YRC Inc. in October 2008.

The EEOC was prepared to present evidence at trial that black employees were subjected to multiple incidents of hangman’s nooses and racist graffiti, comments and cartoons, and that Yellow and YRC subjected black employees to harsher discipline and scrutiny than their white counterparts and gave them more difficult and time-consuming work assignments. An expert would have testified that these practices resulted in statistically significant differences in the way blacks and whites were treated. The EEOC said that numerous black employees had complained about these conditions over the years, but the company continually failed to take effective action to correct the problems.

Consent degree. Magistrate Judge Susan E. Cox approved a consent decree which provides that $11 million will be paid to the discrimination victims. The Chicago Ridge facility closed in 2009, but many African-American employees from Chicago Ridge continue to work at YRC’s Chicago Heights facility.

The EEOC had filed a separate lawsuit against YRC regarding the Chicago Heights facility; similar allegations were made. That case was resolved by a $10 million settlement in 2010. That first consent decree (Chicago Heights) will also protect the victims of the second lawsuit at Chicago Ridge. The Chicago Heights decree enjoins YRC from engaging in any further discrimination because of race and from retaliating against people who complain about racial bias, and requires that the company retain consultants to examine its discipline and work assignment procedures and recommend changes to prevent racial disparities. Activities at Chicago Heights are being reviewed by a monitor who oversees the company’s response to complaints and who reports semiannually to the court and to the EEOC on the company’s compliance with the decree.

According to the EEOC, the decree entered on June 29 will benefit as many as 324 African-American employees who worked at the Chicago Ridge facility on the dock and in the yard as dockworkers, hostlers, janitors, clericals and supervisors from 2004 to the closing of the facility in September 2009. Eligible claimants will be invited to participate in a claims process over the coming months.

The consent decree resolves two lawsuits consolidated for purposes of the settlement. A group of 14 employees initially filed a class action suit under Section 1981 in October 2008 (Brown v Yellow Transp, Inc, No 08 CV 5908). The EEOC then filed suit under Title VII (EEOC v Yellow Transp, Inc and YRC, INC, No 09 CV 7693). The plaintiffs in the Brown litigation are represented by Randall Schmidt of the Edwin F. Mandel Legal Aid Clinic of the University of Chicago Law School, as well as private counsel Carol Coplan Babbitt and Catherine Caporusso.

Noting that the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is approaching, EEOC General Counsel David Lopez said, “This case, with evidence of hangman’s nooses, vile racist graffiti, and race-based work assignments, proves that even after these many years, there is work to be done to eradicate pernicious racial hatred and discrimination.”

“Employers should not believe that, because they are in an industry ― like trucking ― that is known for rough working conditions, they can ignore discrimination when it arises,” said Chicago Regional Attorney John Hendrickson. “A noose is not an acceptable symbol there or anywhere else ― that’s the law.”