Civil suit filed against College of Charleston alleges hostile work environment, racial discrimination

A utilities plant operator at the College of Charleston has filed a federal lawsuit against the school alleging it failed to respond to complaints that his supervisor used the N-word and drew a racially insensitive picture of a black man while on the job.

The plaintiff in the case, Frederick Fortner, a black man, was hired in December 2008 to work in the school’s central energy department, according to a court document filed Nov. 30 by Bonnie Travaglio Hunt, an attorney for the man. In the years since, the man claimed to have witnessed his supervisor, Warren Wurscher, and other co-workers use “inappropriate and uncalled for comments” on various topics, including race, the document stated.

In addition, the school “failed and refused” to address multiple hostile work environment complaints that the supervisor at times slept on the job, threatened to shoot police officers if he were pulled over, made fat jokes, used derogatory language to describe women, was unable to control his temper and distributed inappropriate political emails through the college’s server, Fortner alleged in the suit.

“On several occasions the plaintiff has reported to operators and (his supervisor) that he feels that certain language is offensive and not appropriate for the work place. That none of the complaints have been addressed and the hostile work environment based on language and racist remarks has continued,” the document stated.

Mike Robertson, a spokesman for the College of Charleston, said the complaint had already been investigated and determined to be unfounded.

“Both the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission and the (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) investigated this claim and found no merit,” Robertson said. “As for the lawsuit itself, it is the policy of the college to not comment on any pending legal matters.”

Robertson added that both Fortner and Wurscher are still employed at the college. Wurscher could not be reached for comment at the school or at home.

In 2011, Fortner alleged to have heard his supervisor say “a black man can’t do his job,” watched him draw a picture depicting a black electrician, and overheard him use the n-word in a conversation. Fortner reported the incidents to management that year, but no action was taken, according to the civil suit.

The inappropriate comments continued into 2012 and 2013, Fortner alleged, and the supervisor allowed other employees to make similar remarks.

Fortner is suing for an unspecified amount in lost wages, lost benefits, punitive damages, attorney fees and other costs. A date for trial has not yet been set.

Reach Christina Elmore at 843-937-5908.