SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — A former African American employee of a Pleasanton construction firm is suing the company and its owners over alleged racial discrimination and harassment, episodes which included decorating the office with Confederate flags and sending her a Confederate flag purse containing photos of the owners dressed in a Donald Trump costume.
The suit by Tishay Wright claims Southland Construction Management owners Kenneth and Anita Hayden repeatedly subjected her to racist and sexist remarks along with differential treatment because of her race and gender. She also claims her job duties were curtailed and she was ultimately fired for complaining about the alleged behavior.
Lawyers for Wright were scheduled to announce their lawsuit at a press conference in San Francisco Thursday.
In the suit, Wright claims ongoing hostility from Kenneth Hayden after her formal complaints about his workplace behavior, which culminated in an incident at the company’s Christmas party on December 6, 2016.
In the suit, Wright described what happened during a white elephant exchange:
As she approached the table, KENNETH HAYDEN handed a wrapped gift to her and said, “Here. This one is yours.” PLAINTIFF protested that she thought she would be allowed to select a gift herself and that KENNETH HAYDEN was changing the rules. He insisted, however, that she was not allowed to trade or select any other present. PLAINTIFF chose not to open the present in front of the group and only did so later after she got in her car to leave the party.
When PLAINTIFF returned to her car, she finally opened the present and was horrified by what she found inside. Out of the Christmas packaging she unearthed a chain link purse bearing the Confederate Flag in red, white and blue rhinestones. As the symbolism dawned on her, PLAINTIFF became sick to her stomach and felt utter shock.
Inside the purse, she found several pictures of ANITA HAYDEN and KENNETH HAYDEN posing in front of a Confederate Flag, which bore the message in all capital letters, “THE SOUTHLAND SHALL RISE AGAIN.” In one picture, KENNETH HAYDEN was donned in a costume resembling Donald Trump. In another picture, ANITA HAYDEN modeled the same Confederate Flag purse, which now sat in PLAINTIFF’S lap. The pictures appeared to be taken in several different office cubicles at SOUTHLAND where PLAINTIFF worked. PLAINTIFF’s shock and horror over the purse and pictures depicting racist symbolism and a hostile potential violent message caused her to become increasingly nauseous and anxiety ridden
PLAINTIFF returned home in tears after opening the gift, horrified, humiliated and deeply fearful that the owners of SOUTHLAND would go to these lengths to silence and intimidate her after her multiple complaints to management..
Also in the complaint, Wright also alleges the Haydens and another employee made racist comments about other workers – at times in front of them – and would laugh off concerns of a hostile work environment, saying “He’s just kidding” or the comment was an “after 4:30 pm joke.”
This was a frequent response of KENNETH HAYDEN when someone said something offensive, racist, harassing or politically incorrect. PLAINTIFF was highly offended and was shocked such comments would be made in the workplace.
Wright said in a prepared statement in that she was bringing the lawsuit, “Because no one should be treated this way in America in the year 2017. This is not Alabama in the 1940’s. This country is going backwards and it has to stop.”
Wright’s attorney Christopher Dolan said in a statement, “This is just a sign of how people feel empowered by our current president, and his racist and sexist statements about women and minorities, to blatantly harass and discriminate against others.”
“The message couldn’t be any clearer: ‘I stand with Trump and I’m racist. If you don’t like it then get out of my business and out of my country,'” Dolan said.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages along with punitive damages.
No one at Southland Construction Management answered the door when a KPIX 5 reporter tried to get a response to the lawsuit. An email inquiry to Kenneth Hayden was not immediately returned.
On the company website, a section on “Core Values” says the company “seeks to serve our customers, vendors and employees as we serve the Lord Jesus Christ.” Among the core values on the list: “Professionalism…on and off the job, by treating one another with respect, dignity and brotherly love displayed by our attitude, speech and conduct towards one another, daily taking into account our words and actions and how they affect our work environment and those around us.”
Carlos E. Castañeda is Senior Editor, News & Social Media for CBS San Francisco and a San Francisco native. You can follow him on Twitter or send him an email.