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EEOC Sues Prewitt Enterprises and Desoto Marine for Race Discrimination

Mississippi Construction and Salvage Companies' Managers and Supervisors Continuously Subjected Black Employees to Racially Hostile Work Environment, Federal Agency Charges

MEMPHIS - Prewitt Enterprises, Inc., doing business as B&P Enterprises, and Desoto Marine, LLC violated federal law by subjecting African-American employees to a hostile work environment and discrimination because of their race, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed on September 28.

Prewitt, headquartered in Walls, Miss., and Desoto Marine, headquartered in Hernando, Miss., provide construction and salvage services, as well as derailment cleanup, hazardous material emergency response, and environmental remediation services. They specialize in disaster response.

According to the EEOC's lawsuit, since at least January 2014, Prewitt and Desoto managers and supervisors subjected black employees to daily harassment and humiliation because of their race. Managers and supervisors regularly referred to African-American employees with profane, offensive and derogatory terms such as "n----r," "monkey," "boy," "mule," etc.  The company managers made demeaning racial references to the black employees' skin color and hair texture, as well as negative ethnic and racial references to slavery, plantations, lynching and the employees' African ancestry. Further, management officials referred to their female family members and African-American women in general with sexually degrading terms. 

The EEOC's lawsuit also charges that black employees were consistently assigned the most dangerous and hazardous jobs. The companies often used local law enforcement to carry out threats and to intimidate employees.

The discrimination and harassment took place at the companies' headquarters and every jobsite worked by the victims, including multiple locations throughout Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits harassment and discrimination on the basis of race and unequal terms and conditions of employment because of race. The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Prewitt Enterprises d/b/a B&P Enterprises, Inc., and Desoto Marine, Civil Action No. 3:18-cv-00213) in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee, Western Division, after first attempting to reach a voluntary pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The EEOC's Memphis District Office investigated the charge of discrimination.

"The egregious nature of the racial harassment in this case is astonishing and disheartening," said Delner Franklin-Thomas, district director of the EEOC's Memphis District Office, which has juris­dic­tion over Arkansas, Tennessee and portions of Mississippi. "It is inconceivable that more than 54 years after the establishment of the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, racial equality in the workplace remains a dream deferred. Unfortunately, there is still much work to be done before we can achieve our vision of a respectful and inclusive workplace for all. Until then, the EEOC will continue to fight against racial injustice in the workplace."

The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov. Stay connected with the latest EEOC news by subscribing to our email updates.