Saturday, December 20, 2014

Judge: Boeing workers who dressed as KKK can't sue for racism

Three former Boeing workers who claimed their black colleague tricked them into dressing as members of the Ku Klux Klan while they were on the job cannot sue their former employer for racism, a federal court judge ruled.

Judge: Boeing workers who dressed as KKK can't sue for racism

Three former Boeing workers who claimed their black colleague tricked them into dressing as members of the Ku Klux Klan while they were on the job cannot sue their former employer for racism, a federal court judge ruled.

In May 2012, two white Boeing workers, Francis Boyd Jr. and David Smith, and a Native-American employee, Zachary Barker, were fired from their jobs at the Boeing plant in Ridley Park after a black colleague, Kenta Smith, showed his supervisor a cell phone picture of the three men dressed as KKK members, court documents said. 

In the photo, the three Boeing painters were seen "standing in a row and facing the camera, wearing loose, white, robe-like suits and pointed white hoods. The hoods cover their faces except for a horizontal oval that exposes their eyes. Two of the men are holding makeshift wooden crosses approximately a foot high. The men to the center and right are leaning together so that their hoods nearly touch, a cross extended before them. The picture is very clearly an image of three Klansmen," federal Judge L. Felipe Restrepo wrote in his memorandum.

According to the judge, the photo was taken in the Boeing paint shop and the men were wearing white paint suits and head socks that were shaped into a point. The crosses they were seen holding were made out of paint-mixing sticks. 

Kenta Smith claimed he took the picture before the three guys could stop him, but the men claim Kenta Smith told them they looked like KKK members in their paint suits that day, asked to take their picture, shaped their head socks into points and gave them crosses because it would be "'funnier,'" court documents said. The men claimed Kenta Smith showed his supervisor the picture as retaliation against David Smith when the two men had a fight.

The men who were fired claimed Kenta Smith promoted "racial banter" in the workplace, including calling white employees "honkey" and "cracker" and claiming that he had the "'race card'" in his wallet, court documents said.

An Equal Employment Opportunity Commission report sided with Kenta Smith and the three men were eventually fired by Boeing.

The men filed a grievance but were denied and subsequently filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against Boeing, alleging the company discriminated against them based on race. They didn't deny they posed for the photo, but the men said Kenta Smith was just as much to blame as they were, but he wasn't fired because he was black, according to court documents.

Restrepo threw out those claims.

"Boeing asserts that it fired the plaintiffs because they intentionally posed for a workplace photograph dressed as the KKK, which violates Boeing policy," Restrepo wrote. "No reasonable jury could find that this is a pretext, and that Boeing instead fired the plaintiffs because of animus toward Caucasians and Native Americans."

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William Bender and Stephanie Farr
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