Detroit council calls for probe of racism claim involving electrical company

Myesha Johnson
The Detroit News

Th Detroit City Council has weighed in on a lawsuit that accuses a Michigan electrical contractor of permitting racial discrimination and harassment of Black and Hispanic employees, including slurs.

Earlier this month, the council passed a resolution urging the city's Civil Rights, Inclusion & Opportunity Department and the Office of the Inspector General to investigate the federal complaint's claims against United Electrical Contractors, and if found true, consider prohibiting the company from working in Detroit. 

Six former employees filed suit against the nonunion company, which is headquartered in Lansing and has an office in Livonia, in January in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. Three other workers joined the complaint in March.

Councilwoman Angela Calloway said some of the workers who filed the suit worked at the site of the Godfrey Hotel Detroit that's being constructed in Corktown.

"I believe six of these workers (were) working at that location, so, of course, we have zero tolerance in the city for sexual harassments, racial discrimination and retaliation on any of our city sites," Calloway said. "We do support union workers and we want every union worker to be treated fairly in the workplace ... that should be in every worksite. Every developer should adhere to those basic rules." 

Richard Mack, an attorney for the former employees, said he was surprised to see the City Council's call for an investigation. "They didn't take the less controversial approach: 'Let's just wait until the litigation."

"They said, 'If tax dollars are going to a company that is engaging in racism and bigotry that we hear about in this federal lawsuit, we're going to make sure that we do everything we can on our end,'" Mack said. "No government entity should sit by and allow tax dollars to go to a racist company."

Scott Flegler, the company's president, said in a statement that the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union is unsuccessfully trying to recruit employees from United Electrical Workers, "can’t compete fairly in the marketplace ... (and is) resorting to defamation and attempted character assassination to cause harm to our company and our employees."

The initial six plaintiffs alleged in the suit that White employees were regularly given preferential treatment and provided better training opportunities, and workers of color were routinely harassed by management who ignored instances of abuse from other workers at all levels. 

The original plaintiffs were Marius Richardson of Bath, Eric Burch of Traverse City, Vance Murray of Southfield and Tyler Richardson of Lansing, who Black, as well as Gabriel Tavera of Jackson, who is Hispanic, and Jordan Shank of Atlanta, who is White. 

The three who joined the suit in March are Jordan Shank of Montmorency County, Angienetta Allen of Wayne County and Hillary Coleman of Ingham County, all of whom are Black.