Three federal lawsuits have been filed over the actions of a Waggaman shipyard supervisor who swung a hangman's noose at a group of black laborers who had been discussing the removal of Confederate monuments in New Orleans.
The incident, which was captured on cellphone video, prompted the firing of the supervisor, Edward Collins, who according to the lawsuits had a history of bullying African-American workers assigned to shipbuilding jobs at Archer Daniels Midland.
Colin McBean, an Archer Daniels spokesman, said the company terminated Collins earlier this year and ordered its employees to undergo ethics and sensitivity training.
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"ADM has zero tolerance for hate, racism and discrimination and does not stand for the kind of behavior alleged in this complaint," McBean said in an email. "Consistent with our policies, upon learning of this incident we immediately investigated and promptly took action."
But the lawsuits, filed in U.S. District Court in New Orleans, accuse the agricultural processing company of allowing Collins to remain on the job for weeks following the controversy — including after more than a dozen black employees signed a petition demanding an investigation.
One of the lawsuits says Archer Daniels Midland not only failed to discipline Collins but "asked him to return to finish a particular shipbuilding contract" after the noose incident.
"We as African-Americans are shocked that this form of racism still exists and especially in our work environment," the petition says.
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The incident occurred June 12 at the shipyard in Waggaman, as several crew members on a break were discussing the controversial removal of several Jim Crow-era monuments from their perches in New Orleans — an issue that drew passionate debate and received national attention.
Collins overheard the discussion, became agitated and suggested to the group that monuments to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. also should be removed, the lawsuits allege.
He then left the group and returned a few minutes later swinging a hangman's noose and laughing — an exchange captured on video by one of the plaintiffs, Derrel Lewis, a skilled laborer at the shipyard.
Lewis' lawsuit says Collins lunged toward Lewis at one point, trying to grab the phone from his hand. The lawsuit says Lewis' 11-year-old daughter later saw the video clip and was disturbed by the footage.
"It's just shocking," said Glenn McGovern, Lewis' attorney.
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According to Lewis, Collins made a number of racist remarks before displaying the noose, including inviting Lewis over to dinner one day to eat "fried chicken and watermelon."
The lawsuit says Collins also texted Lewis a photograph of three monkeys and once whispered in his ear "that he was going to put a rope around his neck."
Lewis complained to upper management, but Collins returned to work just three days after the incident, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit accuses Archer Daniels of failing to take immediate action against Collins and of "creating and condoning an environment of terror." It alleges that another supervisor told Collins "not to worry about the noose incident," adding that "it was not the first time a hangman's noose had shown up in the shipyard."
"ADM did nothing to remedy blatant violations of its anti-discrimination policy for months even after Mr. Lewis and at least 14 other African-American employees wrote and signed a petition to ADM management asking for an investigation of Mr. Collins," the lawsuit says.
McBean, the ADM spokesman, said the plaintiffs in the lawsuits "remain employed by ADM, and we value their continued service."
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