The ArcelorMittal steel plant in upstate New York closed its doors in 2009. But for one man, it remained very alive. A former employee claimed that he was a broken man after enduring three years of racist taunts inside the Buffalo-area factory's walls. Earlier this week, a federal jury unanimously awarded him a whopping $25 million as a result.
Elijah Turley testified during the three-week trial that his bosses sat by while his co-workers harassed him, writing "KKK" and "King Kong Lives" on the walls, playing howling animal noises over the loudspeaker, hanging a stuffed monkey with a noose around its neck from his car, and even threatening his life, according to Turley's lawyer Ryan Mills.
ArcelorMittal said that Turley's account was mostly accurate, but likened the verbal harassment to regular old "trash-talking," and claimed that its executives went to great lengths to stop it, even suspending the guilty employees. Mills said the evidence unequivocally showed "a work environment that went beyond harassment."
"This case is about the breakdown of a man," the Buffalo News reported Mills as telling the jury. "He wanted to be treated equally, treated equally in a culture that hadn't changed since the '50s."
As AOL Jobs reported earlier this week, cases of racial harassment in the workplace have been on the rise over the last three decades, as have incidents involving nooses. In the last few years, some of these cases have led to hefty payouts, though this award of $25 million may be the largest for a case of racial harassment at work that involves a noose.
In 2008, a construction company in Pennsylvania paid out $1.65 million to workers, after a period of racial harassment, including a noose made of heavy rope that was allegedly hung in a black worker's area for 10 days. In 2010, a judge awarded black dockworkers in Chicago $10 million for having endured discriminatory treatment, racist graffiti and multiple noose displays.
ArcelorMittal, whose chairman, Lakshmi Mittal, is Britain's richest man with a net worth of $20.7 billion, said in a statement Wednesday that it may consider an appeal, reports the Buffalo News, and that the verdict exceeds what is usually acceptable under federal and state laws.
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