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Appeals court upholds $243K jury award for two black trucking workers


An appeals court has upheld a $243,000 jury award to two former African-American trucking company employees who were subjected to racial harassment that included presentation of nooses and confederate flags.

Contonius Gill worked as a truck driver for Concord, N.C.-based A.C. Widenhouse Inc. from May 2007 until his termination in June of 2008, according to Tuesday’s ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Contonius Gill v. A.C. Widenhouse, Inc.

During that time Mr. Gill, who is African American, was subjected to frequent racial slurs, racially charged jokes and comments and displays of nooses and confederate flags, according to the ruling. He complained to his supervisors, who took no action. He was terminated in June 2008, when he became ill while working and was unable to complete a delivery.

The EEOC filed a complaint on behalf of Mr. Gill and another Widenhouse employee, Robert Floyd Jr., in U.S. District Court in Winston-Salem, North Carolina in June, 2011. A jury awarded compensatory and punitive damages totaling $243,000 in March, 2013.

The award broke down to $50,000 in compensatory and punitive damages on behalf of Mr. Floyd and $193,509 in compensatory and punitive damages, back pay and pre-judgment interest to Mr. Gill.

Widenhouse appealed, seeking a new trial, charging, among other issues, that the District Court had improperly instructed the jury regarding Mr. Gill’s retaliation claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A unanimous three-judge panel held, however, that the company was not entitled to a new trial “because it cannot show that the error affected its substantial rights.”

“Widenhouse’s conclusory assertion that the district court’s erroneous instruction on Gill’s Title VII retaliation claim prejudicially affected the jury’s consideration of all claims is wholly unsupported by the record,” said the court, in affirming the jury’s award.

Lynette A. Barnes, Regional Attorney for the EEOC’s Charlotte District, which litigated the case on behalf of the agency, said in a statement, “The court’s affirmation of this verdict sends a strong message to employers. First the jury, and now the appellate court, spoke to this employer loud and clear — racial harassment will not be tolerated.”

Widenhouse’s attorney could not immediately be reached for comment.