US construction firm ordered to pay $3m for racial discrimination

A painting contractor based in New England has been ordered to pay two former employees more than $1.5m each by a court in New Haven, Connecticut.

The court ruled that the company had discriminated against the men on racial grounds.

The lawsuit, which was brought against Safety Marking and a number of named employees, alleged that Yosif Bakhit, a Sudanese-American, and Kiyada Miles, an African-American, were subjected to "a pattern of abuse" for years, ranging from racial insults and slurs to being passed over for promotions in favour of less experienced white employees.

The two men claimed damages for the intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
Among the allegations made in the men’s writ were that were subject to a working environment "rife with the use of racial and ethnic slurs and derogatory remarks and jokes" between 2009 and 2012.

Among the examples cited was one in which Miles’ arm was painted white by a colleague, who told him: "That’s the only way you are going to move up in the company."

Despite receiving "very favourable" performance reviews, Bakhit never advanced beyond the lowest of six ranks for employees in the company.

I just wanted to see a black man pick cotton– Alleged comment from a company foreman

In 2011, Bakhit reported an incident in which he was asked by a foreman to open an aspirin bottle. When Bakhit opened the bottle and pulled out the piece of cotton above the pills, the foreman allegedly said, "I just wanted to see a black man pick cotton."

The court added that Bakhit made a complaint about his treatment, with the help of a lawyer, in 2012, after which his car window was smashed with a rock.

After a two-week trial a federal jury last week sided with Bakhit and Miles and ordered the company to pay each man $1.4m in punitive damages for creating a hostile working environment and for racial discrimination.

They also ordered each man to receive $100,000 from a number of their former colleagues.

Additionally, the two were also awarded compensatory damages: $300,000 for Bakhit and $85,000 for Miles.

Safety Marking describes itself on its website as a full-service highway and roadway marking company operating in all of New England and southeastern New York.

It also says it is an "affirmative action employer/equal opportunities employer".

Local newspaper The New Haven Register reported that Safety Marking’s attorney declined to comment on the decision other than to say that "the client has authorised us to say that there will be an appeal".

Photograph: Safety Marking employees in action at an airport (Safety Marking)

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