The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump’s words insulted this Hispanic woman. Her co-workers used them to terrorize her.

Alexandra Avila’s co-workers used Donald Trump memes and images, such as this one, to harass her, according to a lawsuit. (Courtesy of Fiedler & Timmer PLLC)
Placeholder while article actions load

Angry Trump kept coming back.

Alexandra Avila’s work computer usually displayed a smiling picture of her daughter. But when she logged in one morning last summer, she was greeted by a “belligerent looking picture of Donald Trump,” a lawsuit says.

Again and again, she switched the desktop back to her daughter’s photo. But two co-workers got an IT employee to break into Avila’s computer to re-upload a sneering, pointing picture of Trump, according to the lawsuit.

“One co-worker told Alexandra that Mr. Trump was saying ‘F— you!’ specifically to her,” the lawsuit says.

The harassment only got worse for Avila, who was born in the United States and is of Mexican descent.

The people Avila worked with at Sedgwick Claims Management Services in Iowa bombarded her with racist memes, embarrassing her on group chats of more than a dozen people, the suit says.

One pictured a Hispanic man in an oversized sombrero. “No books,” it said. “Only Manuels.”

Avila’s co-workers signed her up to volunteer for Trump’s campaign, according to her lawsuit.

Once, a supervisor asked the team to vote on what food they wanted for a congratulatory potluck.

“Alex can’t vote,” a co-worker replied. “She’s an illegal immigrant.”

This couple didn’t tip their Latina server. They left a hateful message instead.

Avila started working in 2012 for Sedgwick Claims Management Services, which administers employee benefit programs for other companies. “At Sedgwick,” the Memphis-based company likes to note, “caring counts.”

Sedgwick employs 14,000 people in about 275 offices in the United States, Canada, the U.K. and Ireland, according to company literature.

Avila worked in Sedgwick’s Iowa office, in Johnson County, where less than 6 percent of people identify as Hispanic, according to census data. Every day, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Avila handled family leave requests for Walmart employees.

She was fired by the company last November.

Her harassment and discrimination lawsuit was filed Monday and names her company and two former supervisors as defendants.

The supervisors did not respond to requests for comment.

Sedgwick Claims Management Services said in a statement sent to The Washington Post that “we are aware that a suit has been filed by Alexandra Avila, a former colleague in our Coralville, Iowa, office. Prior to her dismissal for cause in 2015, Ms. Avila never reported any such activity to management or our colleague resource team. Sedgwick consistently maintains fair employment and workplace harassment practices, and we are confident the facts will prove Ms. Avila’s case has no merit.

“Our company fosters a diverse, inclusive workplace in which all colleagues are encouraged to achieve their full potential; this is the foundation of our success.”

Avila’s alleged workplace troubles paralleled Donald Trump’s political rise: According to the lawsuit, the harassment started in earnest after Trump announced he was running for president in June 2015.

During a speech declaring his candidacy, he made incendiary comments about Mexicans and immigration.

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best,” the man who would become the Republican nominee for president said. ” . . . They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

How America’s dying white supremacist movement is seizing on Donald Trump’s appeal

As the Associated Press noted, Trump’s rhetoric has contributed to racial tensions across the country.

Donald Trump pledges to build a wall on the border with Mexico and stop drug trafficking during a town hall meeting in New Hampshire. (Video: The Washington Post)

“Build a wall” chants have been used by high school students to taunt Latino opponents at sporting events in multiple states, including Iowa, Wisconsin and Indiana, the AP noted.

“With the political climate the way that it is, it’s a little more charged,” said the principal of the Iowa school whose players were taunted. Dan Marburger, the principal at Perry High, told CNN that some of his students, at a school with an usually high percentage of minorities for that part of the state, feel that “this inflamed rhetoric is happening and it’s okay. No one is stopping it. They see it in a presidential campaign and now it’s okay for everyone to say this. It’s almost a sense that you feel that you don’t belong in your own country.”

The only Hispanic person on her team of about a dozen, Avila was born in California and moved to Iowa as a child, her attorney said.

Trump’s comments about Mexicans bothered Avila, and she confided in her co-workers, according to the lawsuit.

“Alexandra’s coworkers knew she was upset by Mr. Trump’s bigoted remarks, so they needled her about them,” the lawsuit says.

The ensuing harassment took all forms — a snide illegal immigrant comment here, a dancing Trump GIF there, according to the lawsuit.

Avila told supervisors about the comments and messages, but they did not take action, the lawsuit says. Sometimes, they laughed too.

“It just kept getting worse and worse,” Avila’s attorney, Paige Fiedler, told The Washington Post. “She tried to pretend that these things weren’t bothering her for a while because she had to work with these people. She’s not someone who likes to make waves. … Until she got fired, I don’t think she ever would have gone and complained outside the company.”

Racially charged confrontation over Trump T-shirt ends in apparent crowbar attack

The lawsuit says Avila was fired after a supervisor claimed she lied on timecards, although the suit says her supervisors’ attitudes toward Hispanics factored into Avila’s termination.

The lawsuit claims that she and other employees often worked overtime or through their unpaid lunch break and that a supervisor told them “to find a way to get all their work done and that they were not allowed to write down any overtime hours.”

The 2015 meeting where Avila was fired marked the first time she had heard about the timecard issue, the lawsuit says.

She was terminated and escorted out of the building; her now-former employers said they would send her personal property to her home, the lawsuit says.

Even though she was fired, the harassment did not stop, Avila claims.

When the company mailed her a box with some of her belongings, a piece of paper was included that read: “Just call me La Trumpa.”

On the back of the paper, someone had written: “Illegal immigrants can’t vote or work. Good luck finding a job.”

In January, the lawsuit alleges, Sedgwick employees “continued to harass Alexandra on her Facebook page — greeting her with ‘Hola Alex’ and inviting her to a rally to see Donald Trump, ‘the next president of the United States.'”

In the lawsuit, which was filed Monday, Avila is suing for harassment and discrimination based on race and national origin. Her attorney said she is also entitled to damages for wage theft and emotional distress.

Fiedler said Avila sobbed as she recounted how she had to replace her daughter’s picture on her computer’s desktop over and over again:

“The fact that they went into her computer and they replaced this beautiful, beautiful picture of her child and they replaced it with a photo of Donald Trump yelling and shaking a finger at her, really struck her and makes her feel violated,” the lawsuit says.

Read more: 

White supremacist stabs interracial couple after seeing them kiss at bar, police say

After blaze at firefighter’s home, investigators arrest his neighbor — a former firefighter

‘The ice cream is as bitter and cold as the owner’: After tirade, Internet turns on woman’s business