Defense Verdict in Race Hostile Work Environment Claim

The plaintiff was an 11-year employee of a manufacturing company who was terminated for violation of the Company’s attendance policy after he failed to submit required documentation. The plaintiff filed suit under Kentucky’s Civil Rights Act, KRS Chapter 344, alleging that he was terminated due to his race and for complaining about race discrimination, as well as forced to work in unsafe working conditions and subjected to disparate disciplinary action. He also alleged a hostile work environment claim, relying on what he claimed to be widespread racial graffiti throughout the plant and restrooms, as well as the presence of “nooses” on two different occasions.

Following discovery, the company filed a motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s claims in their entirety. The Court dismissed the plaintiff’s claim that he had been terminated due to his race or in retaliation for complaining about race discrimination inasmuch as he was unable to rebut the employer's legitimate business reason for his termination. In addition, the Court dismissed the plaintiff’s claims that he and other minority employees had been forced to work in unsafe working conditions as barred due to his failure to pursue his administrative remedy and because he lacked evidence that minority employees were singled out.

In February 2012, the case was tried in Jefferson Circuit Court on the plaintiff’s remaining claim that he was subjected to a racially hostile work environment. The Company presented proof that nearly 20% of its workforce is African-American and that almost half of those employees had worked for the Company for over 15 years. The manufacturer also put on evidence of its zero tolerance for harassment of any kind. Following a two-day trial which included testimony of seven witnesses, the 12-person jury found unanimously in favor of the company on the plaintiff’s claim that he had been subjected to a hostile work environment due to the presence of rope nooses and racial graffiti. After the trial court denied a motion for a new trial, plaintiff appealed the jury verdict to the Kentucky Court of Appeals, but voluntarily dismissed his appeal before filing his brief, concluding this matter.