Date: Thursday, December 31, 2009, 6:22 am
By: F. Finley McRae
Whirlpool Corporation, the leading producer of major household appliances, must pay over $1 million to a black woman who was harassed for months, then brutally attacked by a white male co-worker at its Tennessee plant, a federal court judge has ruled.
In his 30-page ruling, Senior Judge John T. Nixon said his decision was based on Carlotta Freeman's "emotional and psychological injuries caused by Whirlpool's ineffective response to her repeated complaints of racial and sexual harassment." The judge presides over the Nashville Division of the United States District Court for Middle Tennessee.
Freeman,"once a cheerful, upbeat woman, became increasingly withdrawn" as a direct result of her attack, according to several medical experts who testified during the bench trial. The attack also left her with chronic, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Now, the judge found, "she can no longer participate in normal activities, including grocery shopping or attending church because she has panic attacks." Since 2004, "she's been in mental health treatment, yet her physicians believe Freeman, 51, will not be able to work again," Nixon's ruling states.
Freeman's ordeal began in January 2004, when she was taunted with "sexually explicit and racially charged statements" from Willie Baker, the white co-worker. Included in them were words in a song he sang to her every day: "I want to f--- you when I wake up every morning and I sing this song about you," Nixon said.
Freeman, an assembly line worker at Whirlpool's LaVergne plant (which was closed last year), told Baker to "leave me alone." Undeterred, Baker continued his barrage and even followed Freeman to the employee break area, where he spewed a steady stream of graphic, lurid desires.
Although Freeman repeatedly complained to her director supervisor, Charlie Fisher, who is white, about Baker's comments and behavior, he did nothing to stop them, according to the ruling. Nor did Fisher "investigate Freeman's allegations, discuss them with Baker or confront him in any way," Nixon wrote.
On March 22, Nixon noted, "Baker used racial slurs while on the line, directing comments such as "I'm tired of you n------s" and "I'm killing you black motherf--kers" at Freeman and her black co-worker, Lillian Lillard. Freeman told Kim Wheeler, a white worker, she felt threatened. Wheeler, in turn, reported Baker's comments to Fisher.
He called Baker, Freeman and Lillard into his office separately; Manufacturing Supervisor Jimmy Lovelace and union steward Richard Eskildsen were also present at each meeting. Fisher told Freeman and Baker to ignore each other and reprimanded Lillard for using her cell phone on the line.
Despite Fisher's warning, Baker approached Freeman again, began speaking and became angry when she told him Fisher forbade any conversation between them. Freeman walked away from Baker, returned to Fisher and reported that Baker has violated his order.
This time, however, Fisher did not offer a promise to "do something." Instead, he advised Freeman to "just go ahead and f--k him and get it over with. Then maybe he would leave you alone."
Ironically, four days later, on March 26, Baker told Fisher he "felt harassed" by his co-workers (but apparently did not name them), and said he was "afraid that someone would get hurt and that he, Baker, would lose his job." Fisher "assured Baker that he would take care of the situation. However, he did nothing to address Baker's concerns," Nixon observed in his ruling.
Later that day, Baker, in a conversation with Fred Contreras, the Director of Human Resources, claimed he "felt threatened by Freeman and that he had already reported this to Fisher." Contreras subsequently said he didn't believe Baker, but nonetheless called Curt Gamauf, the Human Resources Manager, to appraise him of Baker's .....