Oregon liquor commission facing racial discrimination suit

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission is under fire for allegations that employees have been demonstrating racist behavior. The allegations are quite severe: Employees are charged with using racial slurs, goose-stepping and giving Nazi salutes, and using drugs in the parking lot. One African American warehouse employee even discovered a noose made of industrial twine hanging in the area where he worked. The agency is being sued for $1 million.

The man who found the alleged noose said that he feared for his life. He went on to say that he was regularly harassed while working at the OLCC. According to the 40-year-old man, other employees taped a disparaging flier on his locker and would use racial slurs while he was in earshot. The man has been to prison in his life, and he claims that co-workers would post his prison photos on computers around the office. He also states that he was repeatedly prevented from moving up in the organization.

Testimonies in the case have confirmed some of the troubling events at the OLCC. One warehouse employee described how two workers would march and salute Hitler. The workers in question are still employed at the agency. Another witness stated that some employees would smoke marijuana on their lunch break. An African American worker that has since left the agency heard co-workers using phrases such as "buckwheat" and "slave ship." He also heard employees use the "n-word," although he did not state that it was directed at him.

The defense is attempting to portray the lead plaintiff as consistently attempting to gain money through work complaints. They point out that the man filed over a dozen injury-related claims since 1993. The defense also states that the man cannot prove that the twine was intended to be a racial threat aimed at him.

In civil disputes such as this, a business or agency can end up losing a lot of money and undergoing mountains of bad publicity - even if the charges are false. The courts will ultimately have to decide whether the man's allegations are correct and are truly indicative of a discriminatory workplace. Either way, the defense will likely want to get this settled as quickly as possible to avoid further negative exposure.

Source: The Oregonian, "Race discrimination trial shines troubling light on Oregon liquor agency in grazing case" Harry Esteve, Dec. 13, 2013

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