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State contractor for TIA roadwork harassed black employees, lawsuit says

TAMPA — While working on the massive project to recalibrate traffic around Tampa International Airport, four black employees of a state contractor say in a lawsuit they were harassed with blistering racial slurs and fired.

In addition to the epithets, the suit alleges, white supervisors called the workers "monkeys" and one co-worker brought a noose to work.

The employees, all from Hills­borough County, say they lost their jobs in 2007 because of their race or after they had reported harassment to supervisors, the suit says.

Demetrius Catuey, Cyril Padgett, Bennie Woods and Myra Johnson filed the civil suit against the joint venture of Flatiron-Tidewater Skanska this month.

Attorneys representing each side could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon.

Flatiron-Tidewater Skanska was the primary contractor for the more-than-$200 million project to smooth traffic near the airport that wrapped up in March.

A spokesman for the Florida Department of Transportation, which oversaw the project, was not able to say Monday whether the agency previously was aware of the harassment complaints.

The four plaintiffs were employed by the contractor between March 2006 and November 2007, the suit says, when they were all terminated.

According to the suit, some white co-workers and bosses harassed and created a hostile work environment for black employees. Johnson was also sexually harassed, the suit says.

The plaintiffs earlier had filed complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

In letters to the men, the EEOC said: "The evidence establishes that Charging Party was subjected to racial harassment and a racially hostile environment."

The letters also said, "The evidence also establishes that other similarly situated individuals have been subjected to harassment and a hostile work environment based on their race, Black."

The EEOC said it did not find sufficient evidence Johnson had been racially or sexually harassed, but it did say other similarly situated employees were subject to a hostile work environment.

The plaintiffs are requesting a judge designate the case a class-action lawsuit. The four are also seeking lost wages, benefits and punitive damages.

Shelley Rossetter can be reached at srossetter@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3374.

State contractor for TIA roadwork harassed black employees, lawsuit says 11/22/10 [Last modified: Monday, November 22, 2010 11:46pm]
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