A GM employee’s racial bias lawsuit is being revived over a New York plant that displayed nooses


A GM employee’s racial bias lawsuit is being revived over a New York plant that displayed nooses

NEW YORK (Reuters) – General Motors was ordered by a federal appeals court on Thursday to defend itself against claims by a black safety officer who said she endured years of racism and sexism at a plant in upstate New York where other workers raised flags and nooses the Confederates had shown.

A three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said a judge erred in dismissing Billie Banks’ hostile work environment, disparate treatment and retaliation lawsuit against the automaker.

Banks sued over conditions at the GM components plant in Lockport, New York, where she began working in 1996.

She said she and other black employees were subjected to racial slurs, including a particularly offensive slur, and she saw Confederate flags on employees’ vehicles and clothing. Three nooses were placed around the workplaces of black employees, she said.

Banks said that after she took a leave of absence due to work stress and filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in late 2013, GM retaliated by suspending her disability benefits and downgrading her upon her return. She sued in November 2014.

In a 74-page decision, District Judge Denny Chin said the evidence suggested “pervasive and long-term sexual and racial hostility” that a reasonable jury would have found created a hostile work environment.

Chin said the use of the epithet, “probably the most offensive word in English,” and even the one-time application of a noose, “imbued with historical gravity as a symbol and tool of actual violence,” bolstered Banks’ claim of a hostile environment.

The appeals court also found sufficient evidence that bias and intent to retaliate were factors in Banks’ demotion.

The case was remanded to U.S. District Judge William Skretny in Buffalo, New York.

The Detroit-based automaker had said that many of the incidents Banks complained about were too old and that the “totality of the circumstances” did not indicate a hostile work environment.

Banks’ attorney did not immediately respond to requests for comment. In January 2016, Banks took another disability leave and remained on leave until last month.

The EEOC supported Banks’ appeal. In March, the agency sued Exxon Mobil after graze marks were reported at the oil company’s complex in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

The case is Banks v. General Motors LLC et al., 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 21-2640.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

Copyright 2023 Thomson Reuters.

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