A group of African-American employees from Nashville Electric Service on Wednesday filed a class action lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the utility, alleging the department is overrun with “practices of racial discrimination.”
Eighteen current employees and applicants are listed as the plaintiffs in the filing, which also targets Metro government.
Citing the Civil Rights Act, the suit goes to great length to detail the “racially hostile environment” which allegedly exists at NES and unfair hiring and promotion practices.
Sixteen employees are individually named as plaintiffs, and each lists his or her experiences confronting racially derogatory language, racially insensitive jokes.
However, a single common incident does run through many of the plaintiffs' experiences at NES.
According to the filing, in September 2007, while the country watched the infamous “Jena 6” episode unfold in rural Louisiana, at NES’ Donelson Center “a hangman’s noose was found around the neck of a dark-skinned training dummy.”
After the incident was reported and investigated, three white employees where suspended without pay for three days. However, the suit alleges other white employees, “in an act of defiance and racial solidarity took up money for these suspended individuals so that they did not lose any pay.”
Surrounding this central incident are a number of other racially motivated exchanges, including the use of racial slurs and co-workers “wearing CONFEDERATE headbands/bandanas and cars with CONFEDERATE FLAGS on them.”
The suit argues the employees were “adversely affected” by the “systematic practices and pattern of racial discrimination by being subjected to a racially hostile environment.” Two of plaintiffs were job applicants who claim they were not hired on the basis of their race.
Many of plaintiffs are longtime NES employees, some with more than 20 years of service.
The suit also alleges "discriminatory selection procedures" in hiring and promoting African-Americans. Plaintiffs claim they were passed over for promotions even though they informed their supervisors they were interested in training and being promoted. In several instances, the suit claims, less qualified white employees were hired instead of black applicants.
As relief, the suit seeks an award of back pay, front pay, lost benefits, preferential rights to jobs and “other equitable relief.”
The suit asks for an order requiring Metro and NES to establishing a task force on equality and fairness and to implement programs that will "eradicate" racially hostile conditions "so African-Americans will no longer be segregated in unequal positions and prevented from obtaining management and other more desirable positions."
When reached for comment Thursday afternoon, Metro's legal department said it could not comment on any ongoing lawsuit. Tim Hill, NES' public information officer, said the utility also could not comment.
“We know the lawsuit has been filed but we haven't seen it,” he said.
Hill confirmed the 2007 incident occurred and three employees had been punished, but said he has no knowledge of an effort to raise money on the part other white employees.
The suit was filed by Jonathan E. Richardson of Smith & Hirsch and Byron R. Perkins with the Birmingham, Ala.-based The Cochran Firm.