A federal judge must decide if the Union Pacific Railroad did enough to react to incidents of workers exposing a black co-worker to racial slurs and symbols.
In a suit filed in 2004, long-time U.P. employee Ranee Tademy claimed he was exposed to racist slogans written on walls; was called racist names, including "Sambo"; and overheard a black manager being called "Kunta Kinte."
During a motion hearing Thursday in U.S. District Court, attorneys for Tademy said the employee of the U.P.'s Salt Lake rail yard went to his locker one day to find "N----- go home" written on it. On another occasion the 24-year U.P. veteran saw graffiti written on a restroom wall stating "N----- swimming pool" with an arrow pointing to the toilet.
But it was in July of 2003 that Tademy claims he encountered a sight so traumatizing that it forced him into disability for post-traumatic syndrome. Walking into a work room, Tademy saw a full-size hangman's noose draped over a wall clock.
Calling it a "haunting symbol" of racial violence, attorney Erika Birch said "the noose is a grossly offensive act."
"Throughout his career, Mr. Tademy has been subjected to racial epithets of the worst kind, both verbally and in writing," Birch told the court.
But an attorney for U.P. said her company did react to the alleged racial events — conducting investigations, requiring race-sensitivity remedial training and even firing the employee responsible for the noose incident.
Janet Smith said in every instance U.P. responded appropriately. One supervisor, after calling Tademy "boy" before co-workers, was sent to racial-sensitivity training by the company.
When a supervisor, who was black, learned of the graffiti, he immediately ordered it cleaned up and talked to staff about it.
"I don't know what more they could do," said U.S. District Judge David Sam. But Birch said that Tademy had complained numerous times to supervisors and that the racial-sensitivity training was seen as a joke. Birch said co-workers were overheard saying that to get a "30-day paid vacation" all they had to do was call Tademy "boy."
Birch called U.P.'s reaction to the events, "too little, too late."
U.P. has asked the court to issue a judgment on the case. The court could find U.P. liable or throw the suit out entirely.
Sam said he would issue a ruling in writing in the coming weeks.