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Racist antics cost trucking firm $11 million

Exteriors Yellow Freight Terminal South Suburban Lynwood Illinois Friday June 29 2012  I  Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

Exteriors of the Yellow Freight Terminal in South Suburban Lynwood, Illinois, Friday June 29, 2012 I Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Updated: August 1, 2012 6:10AM

Harry Glasper can remember that day at the end of 1991 when he climbed into the forklift at work and a noose was hanging from the driver’s side of the vehicle.

“They hung it up right over my seat,” said Glasper, 57, who is African American, noting that it would serve as a symbol of a career stalled by backward bosses.

“It scared me — you know I had never encountered anything like that. I’m from Mississippi — I was born and raised in the South and I knew what that meant,” he said. “That was something that was disturbing to me and a little bit frightening — a lot frightening.”

Glasper, of Park Forest, is among dozens of current and former employees represented in a federal racial discrimination lawsuit against their one-time employer, Yellow Transportation Inc., a freight-hauling company that later was folded into what is now YRC Inc.

The case — filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of Glasper and other African-American employees working at the company’s Chicago Ridge facility — was settled with the company for $11 million, EEOC officials announced Friday.

Glasper’s experience mirrored that of other African-Americans who say hangman’s nooses and racist graffiti, comments and cartoons marred the now-closed Chicago Ridge terminal where they worked, according to the EEOC.

“From what we found . . . this would happen over and over again and there was no effective response from the company that said ‘This is not acceptable’ or ‘This is not allowed,’ ” said Richard Mrizek, the trial attorney for the EEOC in this case. “So it kept happening again and again and again.”

When he reported the noose to his boss, who was white, Glasper said, the complaint was brushed aside.

“I went to my immediate supervisor and said ‘Hey, somebody hung a noose in my [forklift],’ and he told me ‘Don’t worry about that’ and ‘These are guys just having fun — just take it down and put it in the garbage,’ ” Glasper recalled. “And that’s what I did.”

Under the terms of the settlement, the company accepts no liability.

Respect of fellow employees is a “fundamental component” at YRC, company officials said in a prepared statement.

“We take any claim of harassment or discrimination very seriously,” said Kelly Walls, senior vice president of Human Resources for YRC. “There may be isolated instances of improper conduct in any workplace, but the allegations in these cases did not reflect the real working environment at Chicago Ridge.”

The lawsuit stems from incidents that happened between 2002 and 2009, when the Chicago Ridge facility closed, Mrizek said. Up to 324 African-American dock workers, hostlers, janitors, clerical workers, supervisors and other staff may be eligible to make a claim in the settlement.

While Glasper’s encounter with a noose happened in 1991, he says that he had problems getting promotions and new work assignments until he left in 2010.

While he had a commercial driver’s license; graduated at the top of his class at Trainco Inc. professional truck-driving school in Cicero and had worked as an over-the-road trucker hauling new cars across the country for several years, he couldn’t get a position as a hostler at Yellow. But white guys who walked into the place could get the more lucrative job of moving trucks and equipment around the yard, Glasper said.

“These guys had never driven a truck in their lives, but they were getting these jobs,” said Glasper, who largely loaded and unloaded trucks by hand most of his career.

The EEOC’s race harassment and discrimination suit charged that Yellow Transportation Inc. subjected African-American employees to harsher discipline and scrutiny than their white counterparts and gave them more difficult and time-consuming work assignments at the Chicago Ridge facility.

The company’s Chicago Heights facility faced a separate but similar lawsuit that resulted in a $10 million settlement in 2010, according to the commission.

Under a consent decree in that case, the court not only prohibited further discrimination but ordered monitors to keep an eye on everything from training to responses to employee complaints.

That consent decree will protect employees involved in the Chicago Ridge case, too.

“Now I can get closure on a dark and turbulent time in my life,” Glasper said.

He said the stress triggered strife at home and led to him splitting up with his wife.

“I think it contributed greatly to my divorce — the pressure and the hostile environment,” Glasper said. “I was on the edge and a different person. I sought pastoral counseling. . . . It helped me put the pieces together, but it didn’t save my marriage.”

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