EEOC: Lockheed allowed racial harassment

By By Suzanne Monk / managing editor
July 13, 2004
Black employees at Lockheed Martin in Meridian where Doug Williams opened fire on co-workers in July 2003 were subjected to racial harassment and a hostile work environment, according to a determination by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission made public Monday.
The EEOC's ruling comes after eight lawsuits were filed against the aeronautical manufacturer in U.S. District Court in Jackson and Lauderdale County Circuit Court.
In the complaints, more than 50 plaintiffs allege that Lockheed managers knew, or should have known, that Williams was potentially violent. He had "acted out" in racially bigoted ways. He had talked about killing co-workers especially black co-workers.
The shootings happened on July 8, 2003. Six people died, and Williams committed suicide. Eight were injured. For the record, five of the six people Williams killed were black. Of the eight he wounded, five were white and three were black.
More than one plaintiff said planning escape routes "in case Williams starting shooting" had been a grim joke on the plant floor.
What it means
Initial news of the EEOC determination came from attorney Tyrone Means of Alabama, who represents the spouses of two of the six people Williams killed, Lynette McCall and Samuel Cockrell.
The ruling covers a period of time from December 2001 to the day of the shootings.
In it, EEOC Area Director Benjamin Bradley said Williams created a hostile work environment for all black employees at the Meridian plant.
The EEOC ruled that Lockheed's reaction to these threats permitted a racially charged atmosphere to grow in intensity, culminating in the shooting of 14 people.
In other words, the racially hostile environment, according to the EEOC, still exists.
A Lockheed spokesman declined to comment Monday because of the pending litigation, except to say that the company disagrees with the EEOC determination.
What's next?
The federal agency's entrance into the situation affects what will happen next with the eight lawsuits.
Meridian attorney Bill Ready Sr., who represents 47 plaintiffs, said part of Monday's determination was an invitation for all parties to sit down with EEOC representatives to work toward a "just resolution" of the problem a step that could include negotiations about financial damages.
Lockheed, and the plaintiffs in the U.S. District Court lawsuits, have until July 20 to accept or decline the EEOC's invitation. If Lockheed declines, or the attempt at mediation is unsuccessful, the usual next step is for the agency to issue a "right to sue" letter.
If mediation is unsuccessful, the EEOC may also file its own lawsuit in U.S. District Court. This lawsuit could encompass not just current plaintiffs but, potentially, all affected Lockheed employees.
What is the EEOC?
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is a federal agency created by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It is responsible for the administration of federal statutes that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, age, etc. It has the power to power to subpoena witnesses, issue guidelines that have the force of law, render decisions and provide technical assistance to employers and legal assistance to complainants.

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