The parent company of a Lexington methadone clinic must pay $110,000 and is under a three-year consent decree after the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found evidence that three black employees were subjected to severe racial harassment, including being called the N-word by white clients.
In addition to the racial harassment, EEOC officials also say that clinic supervisors regularly granted white clients’ requests to not be seen by black counselors, according to court documents and a news release from the EEOC sent out Wednesday.
The federal agency filed the complaint and the proposed consent decree Wednesday in U.S. District Court in the Middle District of North Carolina. The company is Treatment Centers, LLC, which is incorporated in Delaware, operates methadone clinics in North Carolina, including one in Lexington called Lexington Treatment Associates. The Lexington clinic has about 15 employees.
From February 2017 to at least July 2018, clinic supervisors created a racially hostile work environment for black employees Allen Parson, Marquita Williams and LaFonda Bruinton, the EEOC said. Parson and Bruinton worked as substance-abuse counselors and Williams was employed as a licensed practical nurse.
White clients regularly used racial slurs, including the N-word, at Parson, Williams and Bruinton, the lawsuit said. And the program director, who is unidentified in the complaint, granted at least three times white clients’ requests to not have a black counselor, the EEOC alleged in its complaint.
Parson, who started at the clinic in February 2017, said one client used a racial slur at him three different times after Parson told the client to pick the client’s barefoot child from the floor. At the time, the clinic had a policy requiring children to wear shoes. That same client used other profanities and threatened to physically assault Parson, the lawsuit said.
The program director did nothing when Parson told her, according to the complaint. In November 2017, the program director told Parson that she was reassigning another white client to a white counselor because the client said he did not want to have a black person as his counselor, the lawsuit said. Again, a racial slur was used to refer to black people, according to the lawsuit.
Williams started working at the clinic in 2014 and even then, white clients used the N-word, including in her first month of work. But white clients’ use of that racial epithet increased between February 2017 and May 2018, when she left to work at another clinic the company had outside Lexington.
One white client used the N-word and the B-word against Williams, and another white client regularly used racially offensive language either at Williams or in her presence, the lawsuit said.
That client also told Williams that black people and bi-racial people need to be exterminated and that there was a “N-word” president, presumably referring to former President Barack Obama. The client also said “someone needed to get rid of the monkey in the White House.” Monkey has been used as a racially derogatory term for black people.
“During at least one of Client Four’s verbal assaults, Williams was left physically shaking,” the lawsuit said. “After Client Four left for the day, Williams cried.”
Again, according to the EEOC, the program director took no action when Williams made a complaint.
That client was later terminated from the program for reasons unrelated to the racist language he used against Williams.
Williams said in the complaint that she heard white clients use the N-word five times a month.
Bruinton also alleged that white clients used the N-word and one client’s family member called Bruinton a “colored man.” He told the clinical supervisor what the family member said but the supervisor did nothing, the lawsuit said.
“The effect of the practices complained of above has been to deprive Parson, Williams, Bruinton, and other similarly situated current and former African American employees of equal employment opportunities and otherwise adversely affect their status as employees, because of their race, African American,” the lawsuit said.
The consent decree requires the company to pay the $110,000 to the employees and to do other things to ensure that racial harassment doesn’t happen again. That includes notifying clients that they are not to use racially offensive language or run the risk of getting kicked out of the methadone treatment program. The company also must notify clients that it will not honor clients’ racial preferences for counselors.
The company also has to develop and implement a racial harassment policy and conduct training about Title VII’s prohibition against workplace harassment. The company’s chief executive will also distribute a letter telling employees that they are not to use racially offensive language. If they do, they could be subject to discipline, which could include termination.
“Employers must take appropriate action to stop their employees, as well as third parties, from using racial slurs in the workplace,” Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Charlotte Office, said in a statement. “The EEOC takes a company’s failure to take appropriate action to stop racial slurs and racially offensive conduct very seriously and will prosecute cases where this kind of abuse occurs.”
Debbie Whittle Durban, attorney for the company, did not immediately return a message seeking comment.