Two of the most significant discrimination lawsuits filed by the federal government in California reveal widespread anti-Black racism from Latino workers, according to court documents.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed the complaints against trucking subsidiary Ryder Integrated Logistics and medical supplier Cardinal Health along with their staffing agencies after receiving hundreds of complaints from Black workers that supervisors ignored racist harassment in English and Spanish.
Black workers allege that they endured racist graffiti and were called the N-word, monkey and cockroach. They will also be subjected to more arduous labor than Latino workers and were passed up on promotions and denied training at warehouses in Southern California’s Inland Empire.
“They said it in English — they said it in Spanish all the time,” Leon Simmons told the Los Angeles Times. “When they look you right in the eye and call you the N-word to your face, that’s dehumanizing.”
Over the last decade, the EEOC has won settlements in 171 race discrimination lawsuits for Black employees, 59 cases for Latinos, 12 for Asians and six for white workers, reports show. Black workers are mostly subjected to workplace discrimination by white harassers, but the growth of the Latino population has drawn more attention to another perpetrator, especially in California.
The Latino population in California has grown by 39 percent, while Black and Latino workers compete for some of the same low-wage jobs. A third of anti-Black bias lawsuits filed by the EEOC’s Los Angeles and San Francisco offices involved discrimination by Latinos, another third involved white offenders and a third were unspecific, the Los Angeles Times found.
“Two decades ago, discrimination was viewed as a Black-white paradigm,” Anna Park, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Los Angeles district office, said. “The feeling was minorities can’t be discriminating. But it could be Asians discriminating. It could be Latinos discriminating. Regardless of what color you are, you don’t get a free pass.”
Staffing firm AppleOne hired Simmons to drive a cherry picker at Cardinal Health for $14 an hour, but when he got to the warehouse, he was assigned a more challenging job boxing items for $2 less per hour for a mandatory 14 to 16 hours a day for six days. He would see Latino workers clocking out earlier. When Simmons complained, his superiors threatened to fire him. His complaints to AppleOne and Cardinal Health were ignored.
“They’d write stuff on the bathroom walls — ‘gorillas, go back to Africa.’ The Black workers would cross it out. Two days later, it would be right back, he said. “But nobody investigated. Nobody cared.”
Within a month of the first EEOC complaint against Ryder and Kimco Staffing, 115 other Black employees came forward with similar allegations.
Black workers were called racist slurs daily, including the N-word, “Aunt Jemima,” “negra fea” (ugly Black woman), “cochina,” (pig) and” cucaracha,” (cockroach), according to the lawsuit. The Spanish equivalent to the N-word is “mayate” or a figeater beetle.
Latino supervisors allegedly didn’t allow Black workers to get water or take bathroom breaks.
“They’d say, ‘You’re big and Black, you can keep working,’” Benjamin Watkins said.
Leilani Turner said she and other workers’ vehicles were vandalized in Ryder’s parking lot.
“There would be milkshake all over our cars,” Turner said. “Our tires were flat. There would be urine on our tires.”
Researchers point to a shared history of slavery in the U.S. and Latin America and colorism.
By the end of the transatlantic slave trade, between 60 to 70 percent of enslaved Africans were in plantations in Brazil and the Caribbean. A smaller portion went to South and Central America and about 6 percent were to sent to North America.
Colorism also seeps through and creates separation even within the Latino population.
“It goes back to colonial history’s caste system. White Spaniards were at the top. Blacks and Indigenous at the bottom. And racial mixtures in between,” Pew Researcher Ana Gonzalez-Barrera said. “Some Latinos identify as white or are seen as white.”
Barry Bryant, whose mother is Black and father is Puerto Rican, said he also dealt with racist insults at Cardinal Health.
“Their nickname for me was ‘pinche mayate,’ f—ing June bug,” he said. “The first time I heard it, I almost snapped.”
Last July Cardinal Health agreed to pay $1.45 million to a class fund allocated by the EEOC to Black employees, according to court documents obtained by Atlanta Black Star. Ryder and the staffing agency Kimco settled for $1 million each. About 300 Black workers received payments. The companies and staffing firms were also ordered to implement race-based discrimination, harassment and retaliation training and will remain under the watchful of the federal agency.
Anti-Black racism from Latino employees was also behind discrimination lawsuits filed in California hospitals, nursing homes and colleges, reports show.
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