The owners and managers of M. Slavin & Sons' fish distribution center in Brownsville have been hit with a federal lawsuit accusing them of subjecting black employees to a torrent of racist, sexual harassment. According to the suit, filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the misconduct included "groping their buttocks, putting fish hooks into their buttocks and unnecessarily rubbing their bodies into the employees when passing them by... One owner used the term 'n----r' and another manager made comments such as 'African b-----d' and 'Let me see you run like you are in Africa.'" Oh, and then there were bestiality "jokes."
A supervisor allegedly asked one man, an African immigrant, if he had had sex with rhinoceroses and elephants. Other supervisors asked the workers to perform oral and anal sex on them. "There was a lot of messing," said ex-worker Ben Ratley, 31, who was fired in 2004 and claims he received a $10,000 settlement after suing for discrimination. One worker outside the market told the Daily News he'd never observed any racism or sexual misconduct, but admitted "the bosses are always going to be a bit rough - it's Brooklyn, it's rough.
"This is the kind of case that makes your stomach turn,"said Sunu P. Chandy, the lead federal lawyer on the case. She stressed that sexual harassment "can be motivated by just power," and not necessarily by sexual desire. "If you are working on a night shift in Brooklyn, you think your behavior is out of reach." The lawsuit also alleges that employees quit because of the harassment and that the man who originally complained faced retaliation—managers ordered other employees "not to speak to him, yelled at him when he spoke to others, assigned him more frequently to garbage duty and sent him home when he did speak to others."
The investigation began when one of the harassed employees, Kevin Pierson, blew the whistle a year ago. The EEOC attempted to reach a settlement with M. Slavin & Sons, but when that fell through, the commission filed its lawsuit. "The stunning facts of this case remind us of an ugly time in our nation’s history," said Chandy in a statement. "When the employees said that they would fight back against the abuse, the owners consistently told them that no one would listen to their complaints and that no one would believe them. This suit shows the owners were wrong."