A senior vice president for First Virginia Banks Inc. testified yesterday that name-calling among the firm's maintenance crew had become "unprofessional and unbusinesslike," but said that at no time did employees discriminate against Robert Lee Holland, a former maintenance worker.
"I felt there had been a great deal of kidding and joking around that had gone too far," said Shirley C. Beavers Jr., testifying in U.S. District Court in Alexandria on the second day of a civil case brought against First Virginia by Holland, who says he was discriminated against because he is black.
Although Beavers said he was aware that Holland had been called Chicken Little, Watermelon Man and similar names over a period of several months, "he was not a victim of racial harassment . . . and none of it was said intentionally to hurt anyone."
Holland, 46, is seeking unspecified monetary damages from First Virginia and Donald D. Brennan, his former supervisor, alleging that he was harassed on the job and later forced to resign.
Holland, who lives in Woodbridge, worked for about 10 months at the corporate headquarters of First Virginia, a Falls Church-based holding company that owns 21 banking chains and has $5.3 billion in assets.
Kathleen T. Barlow, representing Brennan and First Virginia, called several witnesses yesterday in an effort to demonstrate that Holland participated in the joking and that he voluntarily resigned his $7.50-an-hour job because he thought he would get a better-paying one closer to home.
Brennan, 62, from Falls Church, testified that Holland once told him a racial joke that belittled blacks. Brennan said he found the joke "humorous."
Brennan, who praised Holland's work without reservation, testified earlier that he called Holland Chicken Little and used names such as wop and dago in reference to other employees.
He said the names were accepted as signs of friendship.
Susan W. Skiles, who took a car pool to work with Holland, testified yesterday that Holland referred to himself as a "nigger" in telling how he met his wife 16 years ago.
"He saw her and he told her that within six months they would be married. And he said her response was, 'Get out of here, nigger,' " Skiles testified.
Pamela Ruth Holland, who is white, denied on the witness stand that she ever called her husband a derogatory name.
Skiles also said that when Holland learned he would not be given as much sick leave as he thought he was entitled to, he became angry and told his car pool members that the most dangerous people in the world were "Mexicans with driver's licenses and niggers with educations."
William J. Schladensky, another car pool member, said Brennan routinely referred to him as "polack" or "shrimp," but that he was not bothered by it.
Schladensky recounted the same two occasions Skiles did, saying Holland used the word nigger, but added that Holland grew angry when the car pool called him Bubba Blackwrench, a name that Schladensky said Skiles had invented.
Beavers testified that shortly after meeting with Holland in late June 1989, he informed the maintenance crew that name-calling would no longer be tolerated.
Richard H. Irwin, a First Virginia vice president, told the jury that Holland came to him about two weeks later to say he had found a job near Fort Belvoir and was resigning.
Irwin, Brennan and Beavers all said they were surprised by the announcement because they thought Holland's complaints had been addressed.
Pamela Holland said First Virginia forced her husband out by accepting a resignation he never offered.
She said her husband was notified at home, just days after he suffered a work-related back injury.
"There was no resignation," Pamela Holland told the jury. " . . . He wanted his job back."
Holland said her husband, a 20-year Army veteran who had taken on his first civilian job, did not immediately object to the racially oriented labels because he thought it was "a hazing period."
Still, she added, "he felt humiliated. Most of all, he felt he wasn't getting the respect he deserved."
Closing arguments will be delivered in the case today.