CHICAGO (CBS) — Two Chicago men who work at Jewel-Osco have sued the company, claiming they’ve been the targets of racial slurs from co-workers for two years and that supervisors have done nothing to stop it.
CBS 2’s Dana Kozlov reports that the two African-American men have worked at Jewel-Osco’s distribution center in Melrose Park since the early part of the decade.
They said they felt pushed to file a civil rights lawsuit against the company because their complaints have gone nowhere and the harassment has taken its toll.
Arvell Irish and Leslie Moore said the taunts have been hurtful and anything but subtle; from co-workers using the n-word around them, to graffiti on their work lockers – Spanish words meaning monkey and black – to banana peels left in front of their lockers.
“They wouldn’t say it to your face. They real tactful with it. They’re saying it, like, in the locker room … so you could hear it; out loud, oh yeah, out loud in the locker room,” Moore said. “We came to the locker one time, it’s a banana peel … laying on the bench in front of our lockers.”
“Every day you have to deal with ‘what’s next?’” Irish said. “Can I go and just do my job and just come home to my family without there being an incident.”
Irish and Moore said they don’t want to deal with it anymore, which is why they filed a federal lawsuit alleging a “racially hostile work environment” at the Jewel-Osco distribution facility.
Their attorney, Eugene Hollander, said they took steps to try to change that environment, filing complaint after complaint with their supervisors.
“These clients repeatedly complained to management, to their union steward, to the business agent,” he said. “We’ve got a photo of the locker with the racist epithet. We have a documentation to their 800 confidential hotline they made complaints.”
In a statement, a company spokesperson said “Jewel-Osco is an equal opportunity employer that does not tolerate discrimination of any kind. We have not yet been served with any new litigation.”
“I don’t think they’ve dealt with it at all and I don’t understand why,” Moore said. “But I know at times when things happen in certain areas of the warehouse and, maybe it’s off camera, they feel like they don’t want to deal with it because it’s one word against the other.”
Irish said “You feel you have not outlet, you feel like you’re trapped; I have to deal with this by myself now and that’s not the way I should feel going to a place of employment.”
Hollander said the ultimate goal of the lawsuit is to “tell corporate America they can’t tolerate behavior like this. On a more individualized basis, we’re hoping to get these gentlemen compensation for what they’ve had to endure.”
Moore and Irish said they know they will likely have big targets on their backs because they’ve filed this lawsuit, but Hollander said he will be watching for any sort of retaliation.