Friday, August 08, 2008

Racism in Portland

For those who believe racism is no longer a problem in Portland, Oregon comes a story of extreme racism right here in Portland, Oregon.


The Legal Brief gives everyone an idea of some of the types of cases that EEOC litigates, as well as an idea about the specific race-based issues that other Blacks have faced and challenged in the workplace. Readers may also gain insight into the arguments presented by EEOC and the defenses offered by employers. This information may be helpful to workers, who may be considering filing a complaint or seeking legal counsel, as well as to employees who feel they are becoming embroiled in race-related issues at work.

In this case, the employer used intimidation tactics against coworkers in an attempt to silence them and hired private investiators in an attempt to get information to discredit the complaining employees. These employer tactics are not uncommon.

PORTLAND, Ore. – Home electronics retailer Video Only will pay $630,000 and implement preventative measures to settle two discrimination lawsuits, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced on Monday. Judge Garr M. King of the U.S. District Court in Portland signed the Consent Decree approving the settlement.

According to the EEOC's suit (Civil Case No. 06-1362-KI in U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon), two employees of Video Only’s Jantzen Beach store in Portland -- Michael Gonzales, a Hispanic, and Jayson Lewis, an African American whose fiancĂ©e and two young children are Jewish -- faced repeated slurs and jokes about their race, national origin, and religion. The abuse included use of the “N–word” by management; the telling of racially offensive “jokes”; use of the epithet “beaner”; and a doll with its hair and face painted black that was hog-tied and hung by a nail in the break room.

The EEOC also alleged that the company retaliated against Gonzales and Lewis after they reported the harass¬ment by, among other things, hiring a private investigator to gather information in an effort to discredit their harassment claims. Company officials also confronted co-workers who supported the complain¬ants by telling them they were hurting the company and trying to get them to quit, the EEOC charged.

The EEOC and the employees took the unusual step of filing pretrial papers seeking a ruling against the company and, on June 11, 2008, Judge King ruled that Video Only had indeed unlawfully retaliated against Lewis and Gonzales. In finding for the EEOC and the discrimina¬tion victims, the court said the company had called for a private investigation because of Gonzales’s and Lewis’s complaints and “for no other reason.” The court also knocked down a cornerstone of Video Only’s defense, finding as a matter of law that Video Only failed to exercise reasonable care to promptly correct the harassment.

All this alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Gonzales and Lewis will be awarded $500,000 of the total $630,000 settlement. The remaining $130,000 resolved a related suit to which EEOC was not a party. The related suit alleged retaliation against Travis Herron and Dave Guralnick, two other Jantzen Beach employees who spoke out on behalf of Gonzales and Lewis.

In addition to the monetary settlement, Video Only agreed to implement anti-discrimin¬ation policies and procedures in its work force. The company will provide anti-discrimination training to all management and non-management employees in Oregon and at its headquarters store in Seattle-Southcenter. The company will also provide periodic reports to EEOC on its compliance with the terms of the consent decree. The Oregon court will have jurisdiction to enforce the EEOC’s settlement for the next three years.

“Our investigation discovered harassment that engaged in the worst stereotypes and slurs about Blacks, Latinos and Jews, and that upper management actively participated in this behavior,” said EEOC Acting District Director Mike Baldonado. “This is a major victory for Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Lewis, the employees who testified on their behalf and future employees at Video Only. The settlement should send a strong message that harassment based on race, national origin and religion has no place in the workplace, and that those who speak out against discrimination are protected by law from retaliation.”

EEOC Regional Attorney William Tamayo added, “The kind of heavy-handed intimi¬dation Video Only employed led us to seek a pre-trial ruling. The court’s June 11 finding affirms EEOC’s position that retaliation designed to frighten employees from reporting or testifying about discrimination violates the law. These employees should be recognized for their courage in stepping forward,”

Video Only, Inc. sells home entertainment video and audio equipment. The corporation has 18 stores located in Washington, California, and Oregon and has its headquarters in Seattle.

On Feb. 28, 2007, EEOC Chair Naomi C. Earp launched the Commission's E-RACE Initiative (Eradicating Racism And Colorism from Employment), a national outreach, education, and enforcement campaign focusing on new and emerging race and color issues in the 21st century workplace. Further information about the E-RACE Initiative is available on the EEOC’s web site at

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting discrimination in employment. Further information about the Commission is available on its web site at


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This post was just a random find for me but I have one thing I'd like to say about it:


It is heartening to see these kinds of results for such heinous employer & employee behavior. At the same time it doesn't address more subtle forms of exclusion. The film and television industry in Portland, for example, is blindingly white and there is almost no outreach or deliberate attempt to expand minority participation within the industry.

Another peeve of mine is this "Creative Class" agenda (modeled after Richard Florida's 'The Rise of the Creative Class') which acknowledges the lack of racial equity only when directly confronted. And then, only superficially. I discovered this when I brought the issue up at an Arts organization public forum on the "Creative Class" model. Over 60 people in the room and not one of them African American, Native American or Hispanic. Clicking tongues and sighs of, "oh boy, here we go with the crackpots" were audible. Fortunately Sam Adams–the featured speaker–acknowledged my point. Unfortunately he offered no suggestions as to how the situation might be remedied.