SEATTLE – Latino employees of the Clark County, Washington Public Works Department are subject to harassment and discrimination by supervisors and coworkers, according to a lawsuit filed today in federal court.
MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) and the Seattle law firm of Breskin, Townsend and Johnson filed the lawsuit on behalf of three Latino men who say they work in a hostile environment in which they have been called names, denied opportunities to advance and treated differently than their non-Latino counterparts. The suit claims Clark County’s actions are discriminatory in violation of Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act, as well as Section 1981, which both prohibit employment discrimination and harassment on the job. The suit also claims that the county’s actions violate the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
“Throughout United States history, government employment has been an important pathway to family economic stability and success; it is imperative, in a national context of increased bias and racism openly expressed, that these workplaces be free of racial harassment and discrimination,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel.
The men, Elias Peña, Isaiah Hutson, and Ray Alanis, were members of a road crew for the Clark County Public Works Department. Beginning in 2017, Peña and Hutson began to be harassed by non-Latino supervisors and co-workers who directed racist remarks at them. In one instance, a supervisor said that Clark County was being ruined by “beaners and spics.” In 2018, Alanis joined the department and soon began to hear co-workers make derogatory remarks about Latinos, such as comparing Latinos to a cancer that needed to be cut out. At one point, all of the department’s Latinos were assigned to the same road crew, which non-Latino supervisors and co-workers referred to as the “brown crew,” and the “landscaping crew” who work for “their white masters.”
“Peña, Hutson, and Alanis did what they were supposed to do: report workplace discrimination to their supervisor and the County, but the County dismissed those reports,” said MALDEF attorney Andrés Holguin-Flores. “An employee should be able to inform his or her employer about workplace discrimination and feel confident that the employer will investigate, and if necessary, remedy the harassment to ensure a safe workspace for all employees and community members. No one should work in fear that his or her colleagues and supervisors will treat them differently or with hostility.”
The men also say they were held to different standards of competency than their non-Latino co-workers when serving as crew chiefs or when attempting to advance their careers. Two of the men had to file grievances to receive overtime or extra pay that their non-Latino co-workers received automatically. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the men was denied the opportunity to quarantine and was forced to work after he was exposed to a Clark County employee with the virus, while some of his non-Latino colleagues were not.
All three men complained to the county’s Human Resources department and the county manager, but their complaints were dismissed or ignored. All three men say they suffer from anxiety and other emotional distress as a result of the hostility, discrimination, and harassment.
“It is shocking that Clark County tolerates racial epithets in the workplace,” said attorney Roger Townsend of Breskin, Townsend and Johnson.
Read the complaint HERE.