Contractor pays out $1.25m to settle racial harassment case at Apple headquarters

A Californian contractor that worked on tech giant Apple’s new campus in Cupertino, Apple Park, has agreed to pay $1,250,000 to eight African-American former employees in settlement of a racial harassment lawsuit.

The action was brought against Air Systems Inc, a San Jose-based electrical specialist, by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The EEOC’s suit said the harassment included swastikas and racial epithets drawn on the walls of the portable site toilets, as well as a noose at the worksite hung next to a scrawled note containing other expletives and a threat of lynching.

In addition, the company failed to act when notified by two African American employees that a white colleague had taunted them using racist language.

William Tamayo, director of the EEOC’s San Francisco district, said: "This case should send a clear message that whether an employer is a subcontractor or the general contractor, all employers have a duty to take prompt, effective action to stop harassment and hate speech in the workplace. 

"In this period of national reckoning on the persistence of racial discrimination, we’re glad that Air Systems agreed to settle this matter and provide significant relief to these workers."

Art Williams, president of Air Systems, is reported to have said in a statement that the company treated employees with "fairness, equality and respect", and had "a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination and harassment". 

He added: "We are satisfied to have reached a resolution with the EEOC and will use this experience as an opportunity to reaffirm our values, enhance our anti-discriminatory policies and practices, and ensure every employee feels welcome at Air Systems."

The 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits racial harassment in the workplace and requires employers to take prompt action to investigate and stop it after they receive complaints. The EEOC took the company to the US District Court for the Northern District of California after trying to reach a pre-litigation settlement through conciliation.  

Air Systems, which employs some 500 workers, will now provide $1,250,000 in damages to the former employees and hire a consultant to help implement the decree’s terms. ASI will also review company policies and train all employees, including supervisory staff, on preventing and reporting racial harassment.  

The company will also work with the consultant to develop policies and procedures to facilitate discussions with potential subcontractors, general contractors and unions about how to best monitor, prevent and remedy harassment and racist graffiti at worksites and develop proposals to incorporate such terms into contracts.

Image: Apple’s new Cupertino campus (Arne Müseler/CC BY-SA 3.0 DE)

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