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An egg farm in Georgia must face trial on a black former employee’s claims that the workplace was a “hotbed of racism,” a federal judge ruled ( Revis v. T&A Farms , 2017 BL 82792, S.D. Ga., No. 5:14-CV-88, 3/16/17 ).
The case is notable because the allegations made by Lawrence Revis describe a type of workplace discrimination that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal anti-bias watchdog, has designated as a special enforcement priority: cracking down on employers that segregate protected-class farm and migrant workers from their non-protected co-workers.
T&A Farms and the three family members who own or run the farm prohibited black workers from eating their lunches in an office reserved for whites only, Revis alleges. In addition, black workers were required to sit on milk crates while their white colleagues could sit on chairs, and only whites could use a workplace refrigerator and had access to free water, Revis claims.
T&A owner Dale Davis and his daughter Stacey Dinwiddie also allegedly subjected black employees to persistent racist language and insults, according to the decision, filed March 16 by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia. The alleged racist taunts included referring to or describing blacks as “boy,” “yard monkey” and “nigger.” Dinwiddie also told black employees who were listening to rap music that Dale Davis “don’t like you playing that nigger music out here,” the court recounted.
The evidence presented by Revis, which included the corroborating testimony of former co-worker Sheila Smallwood, is sufficient to raise an issue for a jury, Judge Lisa Godbey Wood decided.
While Davis, Dinwiddie and Alphine Davis—Dale’s wife and Dinwiddie’s mother—may be able at trial to place the alleged racial comments and segregation “in a nondiscriminatory context,” the only question at summary judgment is “whether a rational juror could infer a discriminatory intent,” the judge wrote.
Revis’ lawsuit is one of three similar cases currently pending against the defendants, his attorney, Sadie Banks of the Banks Law Group P.C., told Bloomberg BNA March 17. Sheila Smallwood and John Smallwood also have sued T&A, the Davises and Dinwiddie, Banks said, and they and Revis have for the most part survived motions for summary judgment on their claims.
Only claims against the individual defendants under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which doesn’t provide for individual liability, have been dismissed, Banks said. But race discrimination and retaliation claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 are going forward against all four defendants as well as Title VII claims against the farm, Banks said.
The trial on John Smallwood’s claims is set to begin April 24, Banks’ co-counsel Tamika Sykes of Sykes Law LLC added. “We should get trial dates for the other cases by the end of the month,” Sykes said. Both attorneys are located in Atlanta.
T&A is contractually affiliated as an independent grower with Pilgrim’s Pride Corp., Sykes said. Pilgrim’s hasn’t ended that affiliation despite being aware of the “outrageous” allegations made by Revis and the Smallwoods.
Those allegations also include Sheila Smallwood being called an “uppity nigger” shortly before her discharge and Dale Davis telling Revis, “If you don’t like the way I run this, you can leave.”
The allegations describe a workplace reminiscent of “a modern-day plantation,” Sykes said.
According to the opinion in Revis’ case, black workers were made to wash white workers’ eggs for them and black workers’ hours were cut so white relief workers could take their shifts. Blacks also were paid less than whites for the same work, Revis alleges.
Protecting vulnerable workers, including immigrant and migrant workers on farms and in similar workplaces, has been a long-standing enforcement priority for the EEOC, which the agency just renewed in its strategic enforcement plan for 2017-2021.
Moreover, an agency task force in a June report identified the segregation of protected-class workers from other employees as something employers should be on the look out for. Workplace segregation is a risk factor for harassment and the creation of a hostile work environment for such workers, the report said.
S. Wesley Woolf of S. Wesley Woolf P.C. in Savannah, Ga., also represented Revis.
Huey W. Spearman of Spearman Law Firm in Waycross, Ga., represented T&A, the Davises and Dinwiddie. He didn’t respond March 17 to Bloomberg BNA’s request for comment.
Pilgrim’s Pride didn’t respond March 17 to Bloomberg BNA’s request for comment.
To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Dorrian in Washington at email@example.com
Text of the opinion is available at http://www.bloomberglaw.com/public/document/Revis_v_TA_Farms_No_514CV88_2017_BL_82792_SD_Ga_Mar_16_2017_Court.
Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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