Thursday, December 8, 2022

Employees allege use of racial slurs, KKK imagery in lawsuit against Norfolk shipyard

Seventeen people say they were discriminated against based on their race while working at Lyon Shipyard in Norfolk. (Adrienne Mayfield/Southside Daily)

NORFOLK — A shipyard is being sued by 17 people who say that the company participated in “top-down racial hatred” toward its employees, which allegedly included the use of racial slurs, the display of nooses and a disparate work environment for those who were not white.

Former employees of Lyon Shipyard Inc. say that the management of the 500 Rose Ave. business encouraged white workers to participate in discrimination toward African American and Hispanic employees which allegedly included the frequent use of the N-word and other racially charged language, according to a 101-page complaint filed in the Eastern District Court of Virginia.

In some cases, African American employees were called “thugs,” “crackheads” and “drug addicts,” the complaint alleges.

Michael Blunt, an African American man who worked in the dock and carpentry shops, said he was told by an employee that he was only hired to fill a “quota.” A white employee also allegedly told Blunt he wanted to take him hunting so he could kill him, according to the complaint.

A Hispanic employee named Gabriel Jiminez was called an immigrant and a pig. When he pointed out that as a Puerto Rican he was also American, a white man put his arm next to Jiminez’s and allegedly said, “This is what American looks like. You are not American,” the complaint accuses.

The 17 employees say that the racial slurs, jokes and comments were a part of the “everyday” vocabulary for many at the shipyard and were encouraged by some in management. They also say that racist images — like nooses, swastikas, Klu Klux Klan imagery and the Confederate flag — could often be seen around the shipyard, the complaint states.

The complaint details eight times when workers say they saw nooses in the shipyard — including one incident when a man named Jerry Cook claims a white worker tied a noose and then waved it around while on a U.S. Navy ship that was in the south yard, according to the complaint.

“The racism that pervaded the shipyard, perpetuated by numerous members of Lyon’s management … ensured that African Americans were reminded daily of their inferior status in the shipyard,” the complaint reads.

The complaint states that African American and Hispanic employees were paid less than white workers, and were also assigned tasks that were dangerous, dirty and labor-intensive more often than white employees.

Jiminez, who worked as a pipefitter, said that once he was told to cut a sewage pipe, even after he pointed out that it was pressurized. When he cut the pipe, sewage exploded into his eyes and face, but his supervisors refused to let him clean himself up. As a result, his eyes began to hurt and he was sent to the hospital where he was given shots for Hepatitis A and B; however, he wasn’t given paid sick time, according to the complaint.

The employees have accused the company’s owner, George Lyon, and other members of management of knowing about the alleged discrimination and harassment but failing to stop it from happening.

When asked to provide a comment on the lawsuit, Lyon Senior Vice President Ken Kimball provided the following statement:

“Lyon Shipyard is an Equal Opportunity Employer that does not tolerate discrimination or harassment of any kind at the shipyard. The allegations in the lawsuit are baseless and false. Lyon Shipyard looks forward to telling the true facts of our story in court and to clear its good name and the good names of its employees who are the targets of these outrageous and disgusting accusations.”

Southside Daily also reached out to several lawyers representing the employees in this case and received no comments.

Send news tips to adrienne.m@wydaily.com.

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