US: Noose incident sparks bias suit

A group of African-Americans employed as installers for a Cablevision subcontractor filed a discrimination complaint Friday against their employer and the media giant, alleging intimidation by white managers who the workers say dangled a noose from the rafters.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint, the first phase of a federal suit, covers 11 of 70 installers employed at the Farmingdale warehouse by 180 Connect. The complaint also names Bethpage-based Cablevision Systems Corp. as a defendant and seeks unspecified monetary damages.

"A symbol of hatred and bigotry in this country, it [the dangling noose] tells you a lot about the person who put it there and what the company feels about African-Americans," attorney James Vagnini said during a briefing in Carle Place.

A spokesman for 180 Connect, which employs more than 500 workers nationally, said the company was taken aback by the allegations.

"We were shocked by news of the alleged incident in Farmingdale and immediately commenced an investigation into the issue and into any underlying factors that may have contributed to this matter," Gerald McKelvey said in a statement. "Appropriate disciplinary action will be taken against any of our employees implicated in this matter."

The complaint names Gary Murdock and Dave Willie - two supervisors in the "almost exclusively white" management team at the warehouse - as the ringleaders. Neither could be reached for comment on Friday.

One of the employees, James Jackson Jr. of Freeport, said Friday that he arrived at work Dec. 7 and saw the noose hanging in the equipment and supplies lockup area in a warehouse owned by 180 Connect, visible through a surrounding chain link fence.

"I was flabbergasted; emotionally destroyed," he said.

Jackson said he asked Willie why the noose was there. "He said he put it there to hang anybody who went past the gate."

Installer Shomari Houston of Elmont said he asked Murdock about the purpose of the noose and that he responded, in the presence of other installers: "I like it, it's cool."

Cablevision representatives saw the noose and took no steps to remove it or admonish employees responsible for hanging it, the complaint alleges.

"These are deeply troubling allegations about 180 Connect's workplace," Cablevision spokesman Jim Maiella said.

The complaint alleges that black installers are paid a fluctuating rate - not an hourly rate - based on the job assigned and are deprived of promotional opportunities. "It's bad enough we are being underpaid but why should I have to come to work and see that," Ralph Satterwhite, of Far Rockaway, said, referring to the noose.

AMP Section Name:Technology & Telecommunications
  • 184 Labor

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