The Whiting-Turner Contracting Co., which ranks as one of the industry’s largest contractors, has been accused in a federal civil rights lawsuit of creating a racially hostile work environment at a Tennessee project site and of retaliating against employees who complained.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which filed a 13-page complaint against Whiting-Turner in U.S. district court in Nashville on Sept. 30, claims that between May 2018 and the fall of 2019 Black laborers at the contractor's Google data center worksite in Clarksville, Tenn., were harassed because of their race, and that some were fired after they complained.

Baltimore-based Whiting-Turner was general contractor on the $600-million Google data center, which broke ground in February 2018 and opened in November 2019. The company has about 4,235 employees and ranks fifth on ENR’s Top 400 Contractors list, having reported $8.7 billion in construction revenue in 2020.

Whiting-Turner did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

The company segregated Black workers and placed them on an all-Black crew, the complaint states. The Black employees were routinely given the toughest and least desirable assignments such as working without shade, while White employees were given easier assignments like operating forklifts and working in the shade or indoors.

A White crew leader appointed for the all-Black group repeatedly called the men “boy,” “m-----f-----” and “you” rather than using their names, and frequently told them to “get ya black asses back to work,” according to the complaint.

Nearly every porta-potty on the site was covered in racist graffiti with references to the KKK, White Power, the N-word and demands that Black people “go back to Africa,” the complaint states.

Qualified Black workers were also overlooked for supervisory roles, according to the complaint. In one case, a Black employee not offered a crew lead position while working for Whiting-Turner was later made a crew lead when he worked for a subcontractor at the same worksite. EEOC also contends that a White crew leader later appointed to supervise the all-Black group also treated workers in a “demeaning and disrespectful manner.”

Whiting-Turner failed to provide the Black workers with a copy of its anti-discrimination policy and never trained them in how to report racial harassment or discrimination, according to the complaint. When they complained anyway, the company failed to investigate the complaints while they worked on the project. When one worker complained to an assistant superintendent, he was told to “let it go,” saying the White crew leader was “old-fashioned.”

After the two workers, Clifford Powell Jr. and Darren Riley, complained publicly during a team meeting about the way they were being treated at work, they were both fired later that same day, the complaint alleges.

The lawsuit seeks a yet-undetermined amount of money for the Black workers, plus injunctive relief to prevent similar circumstances.

EEOC says it tried to reach a pre-litigation settlement with Whiting-Turner before filing the lawsuit.