Second ex-Boeing South Carolina worker claims racism

  • Posted: Tuesday, May 1, 2012 12:34 a.m.

Another former Boeing Co. employee has sued the airframer, claiming she was fired for complaining about racism in the North Charleston plant’s paint shop.

Paulette Gilmore alleges “regular use of the ‘N’ word by white co-workers” and that she was barred from using a particular break room because it was “reserved” for white employees.

When the Summerville resident reported the conditions to managers and human resources, she was targeted, terminated and then prevented from getting a new job, according to the lawsuit filed Wednesday in the Charleston County Court of Common Pleas.

A Boeing South Carolina spokeswoman said the Chicago-based aerospace giant has a “longstanding strong and effective policy against discrimination and harassment” and encourages “our teammates to bring any issues forward.”

“We don’t tolerate discrimination or harassment in any manner or form,” said Candy Eslinger, the spokeswoman. “We do take those complaints very seriously, we investigate them and then we impose appropriate disciplinary action when warranted.”

Gilmore’s suit is the second such case filed this year by Columbia attorney Benjamin Mabry.

“If Ms. Gilmore’s allegations are proven to be true, as well as the facts alleged in a recent similar lawsuit filed by Allen Adgerson,” Mabry said Monday, “this would suggest that Boeing, a company with great importance to the economy of the Charleston area and this state, has some very serious issues to address regarding the fair treatment of its employees where race is concerned.”

The local plane-making operation rolled out its first 787 Dreamliner on Friday, a major milestone in commercial aviation as Boeing has historically built its jets on the West Coast. More than 6,000 people work at the newly expanded site at Charleston International Airport.

According to her April 25 suit, Gil- more, 41, was hired by Boeing in 2008. She reported hearing the racial epithets in 2009, but that had no “ameliorating” effect and instead triggered retaliation, Gilmore alleges.

“The retaliation included illegitimate write ups and counseling, unfair criticisms and the like,” the suit alleges, adding Gilmore did not receive “proper” raises and was “moved around unnecessarily.”

“She was unfairly labeled as a complainer or a ‘rat,’ ” according to the suit.

That same year, Gilmore applied to be an “Aircraft Assembler Lead.” She was “highly qualified but was rejected in favor of a much less qualified white employee” that December, according to the suit.

Other than his prepared statement, Mabry said he could not provide any more information about the facts of the case.

At some point, Gilmore “suffered a serious on-the job back injury,” according to the suit, and while she “was unable to fully perform her job duties at times she was required to work.”

Gilmore missed less than two weeks of work with all absences excused by her doctors, according to her lawsuit, but she was still fired for “excessive absences” on March 23, 2011.

“The real reason for her termination was her race and because she in engaged in protected activity by complaining about racially offensive and demeaning behavior by Boeing employees,” the suit states.

Boeing “has also retaliated against [Gilmore] by making it difficult and near impossible for her to obtain suitable substitute employment and by stating that she is not eligible for rehire,” according to the suit.

She seeks reinstatement, back and front pay, damages as well as her attorney’s fees and costs.

Adgerson, who was fired in February 2011, claimed he was fired for complaining about racism in the paint shop. In court papers, Boeing confirmed parts of Adgerson’s narrative but maintains he was terminated because he put a co-worker in a “choke hold.” That case is pending in federal court.

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