Southwest Airlines is being sued over racial discrimination claims, with a former employee stating that there was a ‘whites only’ staff break room at Houston's airport, and that black staff once found a noose made of bungee cords.
In the federal lawsuit, plaintiff Jamel Parker claims that his co-workers established a ‘whites only’ break room at William P. Hobby Airport, and that the segregation persisted for years.
He says he became aware of the “WB” –short for “white break room”– after joining the airline in 2013. His supervisor was allegedly aware of the situation but did nothing about it, and the break room was only removed due to renovations which converted it into an office in 2016 or 2017.
According to the lawsuit, in another sign of racial intimidation black employees found a noose made of bungee cords at a gate controlled by Southwest in 2017. “Nooses are an obvious reference to the history of lynching blacks and are hung for the purpose of intimidation and discrimination,” reads the lawsuit, which was published online by the Houston Chronicle.
Parker, who is seeking a trial by jury, was fired from Southwest in April 2017 after a tow bar attached to a pushback vehicle he was driving got caught in a power cable under a jet bridge. He was sacked for causing damage and not reporting it.
However, in many similar incidents involving white employees, Parker claims, punishments were much less severe. He says that a white employee who hit a belt loader with a baggage cart –and only admitted it once camera footage was reviewed– had been given the lowest level of discipline possible. Parker gave another example, of a white employee who allegedly hit a tug while driving another one and did not report the accident until he was confronted about it, but was not fired. Instead, he received a final warning letter.
“Southwest also holds black employees to different standards than white employees. Southwest is quick to fire blacks while whites are given lesser discipline and chances to improve conduct,” the lawsuit states.
The airline did not comment on the lawsuit, but insisted that the company works “relentlessly to foster an environment that is diverse and inclusive” and “[does] not tolerate or condone discrimination of any kind.”
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It hasn’t been an easy year for Southwest, after debris from a failed engine broke a window in April, leading to the death of a passenger. Just weeks later, another Southwest plane made an emergency landing due to another broken window.
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