California building contractor Hathaway Dinwiddie Construction Co. on May 12 agreed to pay Black and Hispanic workers $725,000 and take other steps to settle a federal lawsuit filed last year by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that alleged racial harassment on a $700-million University of Southern California project for which the firm was general contractor.

The firm has denied EEOC charges.

In its suit in U.S. federal district court, EEOC contends that under the San Francisco firm's project supervision, the workers were exposed to racially offensive language and graffiti and that Hathaway failed to remedy the harassment, a violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

EEOC said it found "reasonable cause to believe" that a Black worker who filed a claim to the agency "was subjected to harrassment" because of his race and found similarly for Black and Hispanic workers, each "as a class."

The worker complaint includes those employed by Hathaway Dinwiddie and subcontractors at the 1.2-million-sq-ft, multi-building campus complex, called USC Village, between 2015 and 2017.

Anna Park, regional EEOC attorney in Los Angeles says the case was brought by the agency on behalf of a class of more than 20 individuals.  Complainants include 20 workers solely represented by the agency and 27 other workers who resolved their monetary case outside of the settlement.

Hathaway Dinwiddie, which ranks at No. 40 on ENR’s latest Top 400 Contractors list, with $2 billion reported in 2019 revenue, has already paid claimants about $150,000 of the settlement. The remainder is due by September.

'Hostile' Environment

Workers “were humiliated by the harassment, and found that it interfered with their daily work," says the EEOC complaint. "A reasonable worker identifying as Black or Hispanic/Mexican would consider the working environment abusive and hostile.” Workers also faced retaliation if they complained, said EEOC.

EEOC said Hathaway Dinwiddie knew or should have known about onsite racially offensive and derogatory graffiti and comments, and that the work environment at the USC project was racially hostile.

“Starting in 2015, the racially-offensive and derogatory graffiti was prevalent in the portable toilet facilities which were frequented by defendant’s managers,” the complaint says. “Also, starting in 2015, the claimants repeatedly complained about the racial harassment either directly to defendant Hathaway Dinwiddie management or to the managements" of other site contractors or subcontractors. Their direct employers then reported complaints to Hathaway Dinwiddie.

Contractor Denies Violations

“Hathaway Dinwiddie affirmatively denies all allegations of harassment and that the company at any time violated federal anti-harassment or any other laws,” said the firm in a May 13 statement to ENR. It said "unequivocally that the company promotes a work environment that respects all individuals and responds immediately to concerns raised by any and all workers.”

According to the contractor, its "foreman, supervisors and project managers did everything possible to respond to the cases where graffiti was scribbled on portable toilets by an unknown party,” and noted that nearly 500 workers were on site daily.

The company, which said it removed the graffiti and conducted meetings and training with workers and subcontractors, added that it has zero-tolerance for threatening, harassing or discriminating acts, language and behavior and responds to any complaints in a timely way. The firm also said that on all projects, it communicates to employees, subcontractors, unions and project personnel, verbally and in writing, its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.

As part of the pact, the firm will retain an external equal employment opportunity monitor and review and revise its anti-harassment and retaliation policies and procedures.

The contractor also agreed to train all employees related to racial harassment and retaliation and institute a tracking system for harassment complaints and to prevent retaliation. Hathaway Dinwiddie will require subcontractors to verify policies, procedures and training against harassment, discrimination, and retaliation in place. EEOC will monitor compliance.

“We recognize the strength of those who came forward and reported the harassment in their workplace,” said Rosa Viramontes, director of EEOC’s Los Angeles district.

“We encourage all employers, including those in the construction field, to review their harassment policies and procedures to make sure they are in compliance with federal law,” said EEOC's Anna Park. "We hope other contractors take Hathaway’s lead- to take proactive action to address harassment in the workplace and strengthen accountability measures."