SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Three black men filed a claim with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing Thursday alleging that they were subjected to a racially hostile working environment and had their lives threatened while they were working at a new office tower in San Francisco.
The men, all journeymen crane operators working as high rise elevator operators at the Clark Construction site at 250 Howard St., say they were routinely subjected to outrageous, demeaning and derogatory racial slurs.
The 46-story building is called the Park Tower at Transbay, which is across the street from the temporary Transbay Terminal. Facebook recently agreed to lease much of the new building’s space when it opens later this year.
Oakland civil rights attorney John Burris, who represents the men, said he will file a lawsuit on their behalf in San Francisco County Superior Court as soon as he’s given a “right to sue letter” by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
Speaking at a news conference at his office in Oakland, Burris said, “This is a sad moment in the social history of the San Francisco Bay Area” and compared the way the men were treated to the treatment of black people in the south before the civil rights era.
Burris said the men were subjected to “a constant barrage of racial slurs” and alleged “there was a venomous, fundamental hatred toward these men and African-Americans in general.”
Burris said racist graffiti was inscribed on the walls of both the women and men’s restrooms, which are situated every third floor on the high rise, and on more than one occasion a hangman’s noose was found hanging in the restroom with the name of one the men attached.
He said later on two black dolls were found hanging in a noose with writings that said “Kill nigger Craig and Kill Nigger Dougie, which he said referred to two of the men, Craig Ogans and Douglas Russell.
Ogans said he was subjected to racial slurs from the moment he started working at the site in February to when he was let go in April after he complained about the treatment he received.
Ogans said, “I really feared for my safety” and broke out in hives and is now undergoing therapy.
Russell said one worker swung at him and another worker pulled a knife on him but he said Clark managers didn’t take his complaints seriously and “laughed in my face.”
Ogans said that after he and Russell received death threats they arranged to be walked to their cars every night to make sure they weren’t attacked.
Burris said that in April Ogans and Russell were re-assigned to other union jobs that don’t pay as well.
He said the third man who’s part of the claim, Don’ta Laury, who didn’t attend the news conference, still works at the construction site.
Ogans and Russell said they called San Francisco police to report the threats they received but Burris said he’s not sure how seriously they are investigating the matter.
Clark Construction, which is based in Maryland, said in a statement that it “does not tolerate harassment or discriminatory behavior” and “has robust policies and practices in place to ensure a healthy and respectful workplace for everyone on our projects.”
Clark said that after it was made aware of the incidents at the work site at 250 Howard Site “we swiftly notified law enforcement and have cooperated with both Bigge Crane (which employs the three crane operators) and law enforcement in their investigation.”
Clark said it also “took further steps to ensure that the hundreds of individuals who work on the 250 Howard Street job were made aware that harassment is not and will not be tolerated,” such as holding anti-harassment and discrimination awareness training and conducting project-wide meetings to review its anti-harassment policy.
In addition, Clark said it is working with the San Francisco chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to provide cultural sensitivity training for employees at the site.
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