Black Mechanics Sue Mitsubishi Electric for Harassment, Discrimination in Workplace

September 11, 2020 by Reece Nations

OAKLAND, Calif.– Four plaintiffs in a recently-filed California lawsuit allege they endured verbal harassment and discrimination by their supervisors at Mitsubishi Electric U.S., Inc.

LeiRoi Bowie, Gabriel Ross, Lavell Roberson and Craig Martin, all plaintiffs in the suit, were consistently forced to do menial labor and described racist language used on the job by their supervisors, the men said in their complaint. The plaintiffs also allege Mitsubishi’s supervisors failed to provide them with the same training opportunities as their counterparts, causing an unsafe working environment.

In one incident, Bowie said he discovered a hangman’s noose on a barricade next to his assigned elevator during his first day at a downtown Oakland work site. Although an apprentice was terminated following the incident, Bowie and others named a chief mechanic they say was behind the threat but was not reprimanded.

“I was terrified,” Bowie said in a statement. “I knew someone was sending a message about what happens to people like me when we step where we ‘don’t belong.’”

The plaintiffs, along with other Black workers for Mitsubishi, were continuously menaced by this and other supervisors before and after this incident occurred, the complaint alleges. Mitsubishi regularly protected supervisors “who openly disdained Black workers” despite numerous formal complaints filed with HR. 

Mitsubishi’s supervisors are accused of characterizing Black workers as “lazy” and “dumb” while invoking racist slurs, the complaint details. The plaintiffs also state in the complaint Mitsubishi failed to “stop the harassers from continuing their harassment, and deter others from engaging in similar racist conduct.”

“I look out for the younger guys,” Gabriel Ross, a mechanic and co-plaintiff in the suit, said in a statement. “When I spoke up to HR, it was for them, not just for me. Mitsubishi didn’t stop the conduct or make any attempts to change the culture. Today, we’re taking a stand. You can’t treat human beings this way and get away with it.”

Further, the workers contend they “were routinely assigned menial tasks, like sweeping, and other non-mechanic work while more junior white apprentices were given substantive elevator work,” in the suit. The plaintiffs go on to assert they were allotted fewer overtime hours, which resulted in “significant wage loss,” and were denied benefits like housing for out-of-state workers, which their White counterparts received.

When the plaintiffs took action internally to curtail the mistreatment, their already hostile work environment became even worse when, they allege, the supervisors began retaliating. The filing also noted supervisors for Mitsubishi would “openly (display) the confederate flag on toolboxes,” and would boast about eliminating “undesirables” from the elevator trade.

“These are hard-working men who spent years in the trade and were just trying to do their job and provide for their families,” Larry Organ, attorney for the plaintiffs and member of the California Civil Rights Law Group, said in a statement. “They simply wanted the opportunity to work hard to earn a good wage, but instead were robbed of respect and deprived of dignity because of their color and race. Mitsubishi failed to protect these men as required by law.” 

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