December 3, 2014
Six former employees of Lyon Shipyard allege in a lawsuit a hostile and racist work environment with frequent use of racial slurs and references to slavery and neo-Nazi and KKK activities.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court, seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages and lost wages.
The plaintiffs, Kermit Golden of Hampton, Marcus Orozco, now of Tampa, Fla., Anthony Robinson of Newport News, Hasani Brown of Virginia Beach, Paul Chisholm of Norfolk, and Donald Dickinson of Hampton, said in the suit that they were fired either because of their race – Orozco identified himself as Hispanic, the others as African American – or for complaining about the work conditions.
Besides enduring racial epithets and threats, the lawsuit says, the six plaintiffs also allege that they were given dirtier and more dangerous work than white employees, that white employees were offered more regular and overtime hours, that they were given fewer breaks than white employees and that they were disciplined more harshly.
Lyon Shipyard, on 30 acres along the Elizabeth River in Norfolk, had not been served with the lawsuit as of Thursday afternoon. A lawyer listed in the filing as the company’s registered agent said he no longer held that role. Company owner George C. Lyon was not available to comment, according to an assistant.
Golden, who worked at Lyon from 2007 through October, the longest of all the plaintiffs, said in the lawsuit that he endured racial epithets on a weekly basis.
White coworkers frequently used the “N” word, called him “boy” and “monkey,” and referred to lynching and the rape of black women, the complaint says. Golden also alleges that a co-worker boasted of being a member of the KKK.
The filing says that after four years of complaining to supervisors and human resources, he was fired in October on a trumped-up safety violation charge.
The other plaintiffs made similar allegations and said they were threatened with termination if they continued complaining.
One said a white co-worker swung a noose in front of him. Another said a white coworker fashioned a metal swastika at the shipyard’s plate shop and said it was part of his neo-Nazi collection.
The 32-page lawsuit is replete with racist and offensive quotes allegedly said by the plaintiffs’ white co-workers.
“I don’t know what to think of you, you’re like an animal in the wild,” Chisholm said a co-worker told him one day in 2012.
Lyon Shipyard has been in the same family since it was founded 86 years ago. It employs between 185 and 210 people, according to the company’s website.