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Military contractor pays out $2.5M in discrimination suit

Associated Press | 7/27/2009, 10:58 a.m.

HONOLULU — The world’s largest military contractor will pay a record $2.5 million to a former avionics electrician who claims he was called the n-word, threatened with death and laid off after he reported racism at Lockheed Martin Corp.

The settlement between Lockheed and Charles Daniels, filed in U.S. District Court last Wednesday, was the largest settlement with an individual in a racial discrimination case handled by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

“I have to believe it was strictly due to the color of my skin,” said Daniels, 45. “I was born in an era where I was told things are going to get better. We still have a long way to go.”

Daniels said he was targeted on nearly a daily basis by co-workers while working in South Carolina, Florida, Washington and Hawaii from 1999 to 2001.

Among the allegations:

• Co-workers told him he could be lynched or buried in a roadside grave where his body would never be found.

• Weekly Ku Klux Klan newsletters were distributed in an employee break room in South Carolina.
• One co-worker said “we should do to blacks what Hitler did to the Jews.”

Four co-workers and a crew leader that Daniels worked with are being fired, according to the commission created during the civil rights movement.

Lockheed spokesman Joe Stout said these were isolated incidents that don’t reflect the Bethesda, Md.-based company as a whole.

“Lockheed Martin does not tolerate discrimination and harassment in the workplace, and we have long-standing policies that prohibit race-based jokes, comments or retaliation of any kind,” Stout said. “The matters involved in the lawsuit were not nationwide.”

Daniels, a former Air Force staff sergeant, said the racism began when he was hired by Lockheed Martin Logistics Management in 1999 in Greenville, S.C., and continued when he and a group of co-workers were transferred to Jacksonville, Fla., Whidbey Island, Wash., and Kaneohe Marine Corps Air Station, Hawaii, where they modified P-3 patrol planes for the Navy.

The verbal attacks began when the Confederate flag was removed from South Carolina’s Statehouse, Daniels said. The abuse continued as Daniels and his team moved across the country, with the remarks escalating to threats.

One co-worker told Daniels they could make a person disappear where they would never be found in the isolation of Whidbey Island.

“If you need somebody to tie the knot, I’ll tie the knot for you,” the co-worker allegedly said, according to a commission news release.

“Even in the 21st century, someone like Charles Daniels could be subjected to these behaviors,” said Raymond Cheung, a commission attorney. “It takes an act of courage for someone to stand up to the largest military contractor in the world and say, ‘I have rights.’”

Daniels, who is now working in Georgia for another company, said he reported the harassment to Lockheed Martin but no action was taken to protect him. When he was reassigned to work in Maine, he filed his complaint and begged a human resources manager not to force him to go. He was then laid off.

“Lockheed Martin pretty much told me, ‘We’re Lockheed Martin. We never lose,’” Daniels said. “Hopefully, things will change.”

The case was settled without going to trial because Lockheed Martin had made it clear they would fight his claims every step of the way, Daniels said.

The contractor disputes some of Daniels’ allegations but wanted to settle the matter so both parties could move on, Stout said.

But Daniels said, “There were some people who were frustrated that I was doing my job and doing it well. That’s pure racism and nothing else.”

(Associated Press)