A former employee of a Hartford-based waste-processing facility has sued the company, claiming his supervisor made repeated racist comments and even painted a swastika in his work space.
In the lawsuit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Bridgeport, Michael Brockman, who is black, alleged the harassment and bigoted comments were so bad that he resigned after nine months on the job because the company failed to protect him from the abusive behavior.
The lawsuit details several incidents in which the 48-year-old Brockman, who worked for NAES Corp. as a loader operator, was allegedly repeatedly berated by Brendan O’Connor, his supervisor, who is white.
O’Connor declined to discuss the lawsuit with the Connecticut Law Tribune Friday.
As of Friday afternoon, NAES had not named an attorney to represent it in the lawsuit. David Miner, associate general counsel for the company’s headquarters in Issaquah, Washington, did not respond to a request for comment Friday.
The alleged conduct began in September 2017, a week after Brockman began working at NAES. The lawsuit claims the two men were in a confined entry area at the facility when Brockman commented the entrance looked tight. In response, O’Connor said, “I bet you’d go in there if there were fried chicken and watermelon inside,” the lawsuit claims. The comments allegedly continued throughout the fall, the lawsuit says. Among other things, O’Connor is alleged to have said things such as Brockman had a “baby mama,” that people in Florida “don’t like your kind,” and allegedly asked Brockman if he was a drug dealer because he had two cellphones.
Management and human resources, the lawsuit says, did nothing to help Brockman. Human resources, the lawsuit says, claimed it did its own investigation into the alleged incidents and found O’Connor, who still works for the company, did nothing wrong.
In March, the lawsuit says, Brockman reported O’Connor to NAES’s corporate hotline in Washington state. Two days later, the lawsuit says, O’Connor apologized for making offensive comments. But Brockman’s attorneys told the Connecticut Law Tribune Friday that the incident that stood out for Brockman was the swastika painted on a wall in green paint in an area where the plaintiff frequently worked. The swastika was painted the same day O’Connor allegedly apologized.
“Brockman believed that O’Connor was responsible for the swastika because he had observed O’Connor at the paint cabinet with a spray can of green paint earlier that day,” Raymond Dinsmore, one of Brockman’s two attorneys, told the Connecticut Law Tribune. “Mr. Brockman believed that the swastika was communicating to him that he would not be successful in his efforts to seek justice through the company.”
A second notable incident, Dinsmore said, was that the company reneged on an offer to transfer Brockman to another position where he wouldn’t have to report to O’Connor. Brockman is now working as a third-shift box truck driver at another company.
Dinsmore, of counsel with the Hayber Law Firm, said he believes O’Connor had spoken in derogatory terms to other employees.
The lawsuit, which claims violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, seeks an undetermined amount of compensatory and punitive damages. It also seeks back pay and lost benefits, or reinstatement of front pay.
The lawsuit cites six counts, including retaliation in violation of Title VII and retaliation in violation of the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act.
Assisting Dinsmore in the case is Deborah McKenna of the Hayber Law Firm.