Discrimination Suit against Chicago Local Moves Forward

U.S. Dist. Judge Blanche M. Manning (N.D. Ill., Clinton) ruled Mar. 13 that a black pipe fitter,  Lawrence Malone, submitted sufficient evidence that his union instigated, supported, encouraged, or ratified such the presence of racist graffiti on portable toilets at a job site to avoid summary judgment for the union on his racial harassment claim under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Partially denying summary judgment to United Ass’n of Plumbers and Pipe Fitters’ Local 597 in Chicago, Manning said Malone, a union member who worked at a job site in Robbins, Ill., in 1995-96, could proceed with his Title VII claim, even though he never had complained about the graffiti while he worked at the site or produced conclusive evidence that union members actually were responsible for the graffiti.

Malone did submit evidence, however, that in 1992, union business manager Francis McCartin delivered a racially tinged speech in which he made derogatory remarks about minority union members to a union audience that applauded him repeatedly. Malone also pointed out that union leaders took no steps to remove the offending graffiti until August 1996, after a black union member other than Malone complained. The court said the 1992 speech could be considered, despite Local 597’s argument that a speech made more than three years before Malone encountered racist graffiti on the job should be inadmissible. “From any perspective, what remains from reading McCartin’s speech is the factual issue of whether the union’s leadership generated or fostered racial animus against its African-American membership,” Manning wrote. “The union has offered no authority for [its] argument that the temporal separation between the time the speech was made and when the graffiti appeared on the toilets at the Robbins site bars Malone from raising this evidence in support of his claim.”

Malone, who represented himself in the lawsuit, began working at the Robbins Recovery Facility in Nov. 1995 and belonged to Local 597. The parties did not dispute that during the period Malone worked at the site, racially derisive remarks were scrawled on the walls of most of the toilets. Although Malone acknowledged he did not know who wrote the graffiti, he speculated that his union co-workers were responsible. Malone also testified that there was a Ku Klux Klan poster on site, although he did not see it himself, and that he saw a rope looped to resemble a “lynch rope” at the job site. Malone did not complain to the employer or the union about the graffiti or other racial paraphernalia before he was terminated in June 1996.

About a month later, another black union member, James Ferguson, did complain about the graffiti. After relaying the complaint to the union’s business agent workers at the site were instructed in Aug. 1996 not to write on the toilets and he had the existing graffiti painted over.

Malone subsequently sued the union and employer, alleging a racially hostile work environment and discriminatory failure to promote. In an earlier decision by U.S. Dist. Judge Elaine E. Bucklo (N.D. Ill., Clinton), the court dismissed Malone’s failure to promote claim against the employer, citing Malone’s admission that he had never applied for foreman. In July 1998, the court had denied the union’s motion to dismiss Malone’s Title VII claims against Local 597. [BNA 3/26/02]