The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Lockheed Martin Corp. yesterday, accusing the Pentagon's largest contractor of ignoring a black employee's complaints of racial harassment and retaliating after he complained.
Charles Daniels, an electrician who worked on the P-3 Orion surveillance plane at several Lockheed facilities, was subject to racist jokes, slurs and threats by white co-workers and a Latino supervisor daily for about a year, according the EEOC and Daniels's lawyer. They said Daniels was also told that the country would be better off if the South had won the Civil War, and that co-workers talked about lynching and slavery.
A spokesman for Bethesda-based Lockheed declined to comment on the lawsuit because it had not been reviewed but said the company has "strong policies" against discrimination.
Daniels, while working on a project in Washington state, complained to a supervisor who did nothing about the harassment, according to the EEOC. Daniels was transferred in 2001 to Hawaii with the same team of workers and subjected to the same harassment there, the EEOC said. When Daniels complained, a supervisor threatened to fire him, said William R. Tamayo, an EEOC regional attorney based in San Francisco.
Daniels, 43, said in an interview yesterday that he was laid off later in 2001 when he refused to rejoin the team that included the workers who harassed him. "In a way I feel vindicated" that the EEOC sued, Daniels said. "Hopefully justice will be served."
The agency files about 400 lawsuits a year against all employers, based on about 80,000 complaints. About one-third of the lawsuits are filed on behalf of more than one person.
"Unfortunately, 40 years after the Civil Rights Act was passed, this is still going on," Tamayo said of the Daniels case, which was filed in federal court in Hawaii. "This is straight-up harassment."
Company spokesman Craig Quigley said in a written statement that "Lockheed Martin has strong programs and policies in place to prevent all forms of discrimination."
"We strive to create a professional atmosphere in which everyone has the opportunity to contribute and to succeed," he said.
Lockheed has faced other issues regarding race discrimination. Last July, the EEOC alleged that the company permitted a racially hostile work environment for black employees "to grow in intensity" at its Meridian, Miss., plant until a white employee shot 14 workers -- 12 of them black -- there. The EEOC said it found during its investigation that Lockheed's reaction to racially motivated threats by the gunman, Doug Williams, was inadequate. Williams killed himself at the scene.
"We disagree with the EEOC findings" in the Mississippi case, Quigley said. "These acts of violence were the acts of a single man, and as we have said previously no one could have anticipated these tragic acts."
The Mississippi case could help Daniels, said his personal lawyer, Carl M. Varady. "Apparently there is a culture at Lockheed Martin that tolerates this kind of racial abuse and threats to health and safety of co-workers," Varady said.
Daniels now works in Maryland for another defense contractor, DynCorp. He said it took him a year to find a job.