Black workers at western ND site subject to racism, discrimination, lawsuit says

BISMARCK-A federal lawsuit filed this week accuses a California-based company of subjecting black employees to discrimination, retaliation, racist graffiti and harassment while they worked in western North Dakota.The lawsuit against KS Industries...
Workers filed a lawsuit against KS Industries, LP on Wednesday.

BISMARCK-A federal lawsuit filed this week accuses a California-based company of subjecting black employees to discrimination, retaliation, racist graffiti and harassment while they worked in western North Dakota.

The lawsuit against KS Industries, LP, was filed Wednesday, Jan. 3, in U.S. District Court in California. It accuses the engineering, fabrication and construction company of violating federal civil rights and California fair employment laws and seeks back pay and benefits along with other damages.

The six plaintiffs, who are residents of California or Oklahoma, were employed at a Tioga, N.D., construction site, according to the lawsuit. They worked for the company until early 2014, most for only a few months.

They alleged they were subjected to "racially hostile graffiti" in restrooms and work areas that included the N-word and "depictions of black persons hanging by a noose." They were called "boy," "colored," and the N-word by white supervisors and coworkers, according to the lawsuit, but no remedial action was taken.

Black employees were "routinely denied their raises," the lawsuit states, and KS Industries "implemented and maintained a disciplinary policy that favored white employees as plaintiffs," while black employees "were subjected to harsher disciplinary procedures." The company required the plaintiffs to perform the most dangerous work "despite the availability of similarly situated non-African-American employees," according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit asks that KS Industries employees undergo training on employment discrimination and that diversity training be provided for managers. It asks for "active monitoring of the work areas to ensure compliance with discrimination policies."

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued a determination in May 2017 that said there is "reasonable cause to believe the charging party, and a class of black employees, were discriminated against because of their race when (KS Industries) subjected them to severe and pervasive harassment and differential treatment," according to a copy of the document provided by James Vagnini, an attorney for the workers.

"This is very rare to have the government saying, 'You got it wrong,' to a company," he said.

A company official deferred comment to its attorney, Lisa Edison-Smith of the Vogel Law Firm. She was out of the office Thursday and didn't return a message.