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2 more ex-workers allege noose hung at Romulus firm

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

Two more former workers at a Romulus truck trailer company have come forward with allegations that they faced racist treatment while working there, including the hanging of nooses.

In a lawsuit filed Friday in Wayne County Circuit Court, Marcus Gray of Westland and JaJuan Jones of Detroit. who are African American, allege they were called the N-word and "boy" while working at Benlee Inc. They also allege white co-workers told Black workers, "I'm going to hang you suckers," in view of a 13-coil "hangman's noose," which they say was "visibly" displayed on the company's premises.

The suit follows a complaint filed earlier this year by another former Benlee employee alleging similar racist incidents.

Gray alleges he "more than once" saw a noose hanging inside Benlee's premises. Gray also says a white co-worker only identified as "Rick" threatened to hang him and tried to put a wire around his neck.

A photo provided by attorney Jonathan Marko shows a noose allegedly hanging at Benlee, Inc.

Gray was employed at the company from July 2018 until October 2019, when he was laid off, while Jones worked there from May 2019 to July 2019, according to the suit. The complaint alleges Jones missed work frequently because of emotional distress and was discharged.

Like Gray, Jones said he saw a 13-coil "hangman's noose" inside the company and that a white co-worker played with the noose while telling him, "I'm going to hang you sucker."

The lawsuit also alleges that co-workers "proudly represented that they were part of the Ku Klux Klan" and played racist songs before African American workers, including a 1939 number, “Pick a Bale o’ Cotton.”

In addition, the complaint says Black workers were threatened and assaulted and some Benlee employees played racist songs to the African American employees including the 1939 song “Pick a Bale o’ Cotton” which features racially-offensive lyrics.

Detroit attorney Jonathan Marko, who is representing Gray and Jones along with co-counsel Hammad A, Khan, said the behavior outlined in the lawsuit “is sickening and a sad indictment of the current state of the nation, which has clearly not overcome its racist past.” 

Marko said in his civil rights practice, “racist incidents everywhere seem to be exploding. The  economy has slowed, but hate and injustice is at an all-time high.”

This is the second time Benlee has been sued this year over allegations by racist behavior aimed at Black employees.

Jermaine Ware, a Detroit resident, sued Benlee in March in Wayne County Circuit Court, alleging a noose was hung at the company twice while he worked there as part of a series of racial incidents aimed at intimidating him.

Ware alleged that on or about Oct. 30, 2018, a 13-coil "hangman's" noose was displayed at eye level from the ceiling and attached to a garage door inside the business, and that it remained there for nearly two months, according to the lawsuit.

A second noose was found hanging the following May on a storage rack in the area of the company where Ware worked, his suit alleges.

Marko said he expects more workers will come forward with similar complaints.

"The racism doesn't stop," he said.

Lawyers representing Benlee filed a legal motion this week seeking a gag order to prevent Ware and  Marko  from discussing the case.

"It goes to show how much trouble (Benlee) is in," Marko said Friday.

In the motion, lawyers for Benlee said the company has been "subjected to harassing phone calls, violent threats" and that the publicity on the case is "tainting" a potential Wayne County jury pool as a result of "inflammatory and misleading stories ..."

Marcus McCray, an attorney with the law firm Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone, declined this week to comment on Ware's suit. A message seeking comment on the latest complaint was left with him Friday.