Marion Brothers

Marion Brothers

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Up Against Goliath

I received a very disheartening email from a woman whose husband had been humiliated by white Lockheed Martin big wigs. She writes:

“My husband experienced a lot of racism from the management and other employees. He was the only black person on the team so management would talk to him and make comments about picking cotton and eating chicken and watermelon. They would always nick pick over any common mistakes made by him but the white guys who made very costly mistakes… Then one of the co-workers hung up a noose. So my husbands came back to the states filed with the EEOC and pursued a lawsuit against them.”

This case is not unusual. Charles Daniels, an African-American avionics electrician who worked for Lockheed Martin from September 1999 to August 2001 also filed a grievance with the EEOC. Daniels was part of a team that serviced military aircraft in Florida, Washington state and Hawaii, and one of the highest paid in his field.

Following a decision by South Carolina to remove the Confederate flag from the Statehouse, the black navy veteran became the target for racial taunting. Several of his white co-workers told him, “We should do to blacks what Hitler did to the Jews” and threatened to lynch him, according to a published report. They said that “they could put my body 10 feet away from the road and I never would be found,” according to Daniels.

When he approached the Lockheed HR department, he was rebuffed, Daniels said. Officials waved off the discrimination, saying “boys will be boys,” and warned Daniels not to prosecute the company. They also continued assigning Daniels to the same team and eventually laid him off.

“They really just want to see if they can chase you away,” Daniels said. “I really didn’t expect [justice] after Lockheed Martin told me, ‘We never lose.’ ”


In the aforementioned case of the noose incident, the wife reports how her husband took his case to the EEOC. She says: “We were paying over $2000 a month to his lawyers (who were white). At mediation he was basically told by his lawyers in front of Lockheed's lawyers that they didn't want to represent him and that although they would have to by law they wouldn't do a good job. The Lockheed lawyer and mediator basically said that the judge was already going to dismiss the case (they were all friends). So my husband was basically forced to settle the case for nothing.” [End of story].

But this was not the end of story for Charles Daniels, who pursued his claim for six years, after being fired. On Wednesday, January 2, 2008, Lockheed Martin settled the case for $2.5 million, the largest award in an EEOC racial discrimination case. The consent decree reached with Lockheed has been filed in the U.S. Court for the District of Hawaii and is subject to the court’s approval.

Eddie Griffin Commentary

Of course, the Daniel settlement is only a drop in the bucket against the corporate giant. But what is significant in both cases is the display of invincible arrogance, not unlike multinational corporations around the world.

According to the report, this kind of case is becoming more prevalent at the EEOC. The number of racial harassment charges filed with the agency has risen from 3,075 in fiscal year 1991 to about 7,000 last year. In February 2007, the agency launched a national education and enforcement campaign to eliminate racial bias.

Recently, I have received several emails and phones about similar discrimination cases. What is striking about these cases is the fact that these are mid-level black employees. Secondly, they are in fear of losing their jobs if their EEOC complaints become public. Third, in each case, they are fighting against a Goliath corporation.

The threat against Daniel’s life gave me an eerie reminder of the Karen Silkwood case, whose mysterious death in 1974 set off a firestorm of speculations. Silkwood was a chemical technician and union activist who became contaminated after being exposed to radioactive plutonium as a Kerr-McGee plant. The company was one of the largest energy producers in the world at the time. After testifying to the Atomic Energy Commission, she was found dead on the highway, on her way to meet a New York Times reporter with documents proving unsafe working conditions at the plant. The intrigue behind her death has been the subject of a movie and books. But her death has remained unsolved for over three decades.

The threats of retaliation for exposing corporate abusive practices are as real today as they were then. That agencies, lawyers, and courts are complicit in these corrupt practices- that remain to be proven.

NEXT: The Case of R. A. Fagan, a worker injured on the job that was prosecuted and convicted of filing a fraudulent worker’s compensation claim. The claim, if substantiated, would have proven unsafe working conditions.


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