Amtrak Lineman Sues for Race Bias, Citing Watermelon Reference

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By Patrick Dorrian

Nov. 18 — A black Amtrak lineman in Providence, R.I., has faced years of “humiliating” race discrimination, including from an anonymous co-worker who changed a sign on a workplace refrigerator from “NEED water” to “NEED water MELON,” according to a federal lawsuit ( Garmon v. Amtrak , D.R.I., No. 1:16-cv-00624, complaint filed 11/18/16 ).

Gregory Garmon says the racial harassment also included someone writing the words “cement tar” on a sign in a workplace trailer. That term is analogous to the racist taunt “tar baby,” he alleges. Both references are “clearly discriminatory to African Americans,” Garmon asserts in the Nov. 18 court filing.

The lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island, also alleges that Garmon was subjected to unequal treatment on the basis of race in the allocation of vacation time. That discrimination persisted despite his complaint to a supervisor and only ended after he filed a charge with the state human rights commission, Garmon says.

Amtrak investigated his complaint about the watermelon sign, and all of his co-workers denied that the sign ever existed, according to the complaint. But he has a picture of the sign, Garmon alleges. He attached both that picture and a picture of the alleged “cement tar” sign as exhibits to his court filing.

According to Garmon, he has worked for Amtrak for 18 years, has a spotless performance and attendance record, and is “indisputably recognized as the most qualified lineman in Providence.”

The lawsuit was filed under the Civil Rights Act of 1866 (42 U.S.C. § 1981).

Amtrak does not comment on pending litigation, a company spokesman told Bloomberg BNA in a Nov. 18 e-mail.

According to Bloomberg Law litigation analytics, the National Railroad Passenger Corp., which does business as Amtrak, has faced 46 employment lawsuits over the past five years and has always been represented by one or more of the following law firms: Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP, Littler Mendelson P.C., Seyfarth Shaw LLP, BuckleySandler LLP, Smith Katzenstein & Jenkins LLP, Frilot LLC, Lane Powell P.C. and Reed Smith LLP .

The Law Office of Christopher J. Trombetta represents Garmon. No attorney has filed an appearance yet for Amtrak.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Dorrian in Washington at pdorrian@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com

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