Sara Lee will be rolling out a lot of dough to some of its black employees after a federal lawsuit said they were exposed to racist slurs and graffiti and developed cancer as a result of working in more hazardous environments than their white co-workers.
The corporate bakery, now known as Hillshire Brands, will give $4 million to 74 of its black employees in a settlement announced Monday after they complained they were subjected to “environmental racism.”
“We’re extremely pleased that our clients will receive some relief after everything they went through. Many of our clients worked for Sara Lee for decades,” said attorney Sara Kane, whose New York firm Valli Kane & Vagnini represented the clients in the lawsuit.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission launched a two-year investigation into the Texas facility, which shuttered in 2011 and found that white supervisors “berated” black factory workers with racial slurs like the n-word and that the walls of the factory were filled with vulgar racial graffiti including “KKK” and apes hanging from nooses, the complaint alleges.
Black employees also accused the factory’s supervisors of assigning them to positions where they developed cancer from asbestos and black mold exposure more often than their white co-workers, who were routinely promoted out of those jobs, according to the lawsuit.
The employees said their requests to be moved out of the toxic environments were not acknowledged by their supervisors.
“Sara Lee’s management staff would either ignore the questions entirely or deny that the environment was hazardous,” according to the lawsuit.
Sara Lee, which was absorbed by Hillshire Brands and is a subsidiary of Tyson Foods, did not claim liability for the claims in the settlement.
“While we don’t agree with all of the allegations in this case, we oppose any unlawful discrimination in the workplace and believe it makes sense to resolve this matter,” said Tyson Foods spokesman Worth Sparkman in a statement.“We’re committed to treating our team members with dignity and respect and have a policy against harassment and discrimination.”
Hillshire Brands agreed to report future complaints of racial discrimination to the EEOC and and will take “preventative approaches” to workplace harassment under the terms of the settlement in addition to the prompt removal of offensive graffiti in their facilities.
- Staff Writer Laura Bult, New York Daily News