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Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Lockheed to Pay $2.5 Million In Racial Discrimination Case

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission yesterday announced its largest-ever settlement for an individual racial discrimination case -- $2.5 million -- against Lockheed Martin of Bethesda.

Lockheed agreed to pay Charles Daniels, a black aviation electrician who said he was subjected to racial epithets and threatened with bodily harm by white employees while repairing military aircraft.

Daniels, 45, "was the target of persistent verbal abuse by coworkers and a supervisor whose racial slurs and offensive language included calling him the N-word, and saying, 'We should do to blacks what Hitler did to the Jews,' and if the South had won then this would be a better country," the EEOC said in a statement. "Daniels was also subjected to multiple physical threats, such as lynching and other death threats after he reported the harassment."

The alleged harassment took place while Daniels worked at Lockheed plants in Florida, Washington state and Hawaii.

The EEOC said Lockheed "failed to discipline the harassers and instead allowed the discrimination against Daniels to continue unabated during his two-year tenure even though the company was aware of the unlawful conduct."

EEOC attorneys said that a Lockheed human resources director said that she investigated Daniels's complaints and confirmed that racial comments were made. But the director dismissed them, saying, "Boys will be boys."

Daniels saw it differently.

"It was humiliating to be called names," said Daniels, who left the company in 2001 and filed suit that same year. "It makes you frustrated because you know what the laws are."

William Tamayo, an EEOC regional attorney in San Francisco, said Lockheed agreed to fire and permanently bar Daniels's harassers from employment at the company. "It sends a powerful message that racism cannot and must not be tolerated."

Lockheed strongly disagreed with the EEOC's characterization of the case. "We regret that the EEOC, for whatever reason, has chosen to distort the factual record in this matter," said Joe Stout, a company spokesman.

"We chose to settle the allegations from six and seven years ago to enable all parties to move on," Stout said. He blamed the incident on "a small number of first-line employees in a small, single operating unit of the company." He said company officials took "appropriate remedial actions based on the facts presented at that time" when they were confronted with the allegations.

The settlement must be approved by the U.S. District Court in Hawaii. In addition to compensating Daniels, the settlement will cover attorney fees and other costs.

Daniels said his problems at Lockheed started in 1999 during a stint in Jacksonville, Fla. Daniels, the only African American in a small unit of workers, said he was among the highest skilled and best paid electricians on the job.

One day, he said, a white co-worker from South Carolina said he was disgruntled because protesters forced the state to remove the Confederate battle flag from the state capitol. He said the country would have been better off had the South won the Civil War. A second co-worker responded that African Americans should have been exterminated, the way Adolf Hitler dealt with Jews.

When he and his co-workers moved to another job site at Whidbey Island, Wash., the co-workers threatened Daniels after learning that he complained about their behavior, he said. "They told me they knew some people in the Aryan Brotherhood and they could make me disappear," he said.