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Elijah Turley, an African-American, had testified in a three-week trial that racial slurs and other incidents from 2005 to 2008 at a Lackawanna, New York steel plant left him a broken man.
“It’s absolutely shocking that a case like this is in court in 2012,” his lawyer Ryan Mills said in his closing argument. “It should be viewed as atrocious and intolerable in a civilised society.”
An eight-member jury unanimously found Luxembourg-based ArcelorMittal and some of its executives responsible. Most of the damages were punitive.
The steel giant, which had argued in court that it had taken reasonable steps to stop the incidents, was found liable for allowing a “hostile work environment” and “intentional infliction of emotional distress,” The Buffalo News reported.
It said that “KKK” and “King Kong” graffiti were written on the walls of the plant where he worked for 14 years and that a stuffed monkey with a noose around its neck was found hanging from Mr Turley’s driver’s side mirror.
“Mister Elijah Turley and his family are very pleased that justice was achieved,” Mr Mills told AFP.
But ArcelorMittal said the damages awarded to Mr Turley “far exceed what is normally allowed under federal or New York state law,” noting that it had not ruled out launching an appeal.
The company repeated claims it made during the trial that it had taken measures to prevent such incidents and respond to them, including hiring a third-party investigator, installing security cameras and shutting down the operating line where Mr Turley worked to question employees.
“However, the company was unable to determine who was involved in the unacceptable behavior,” it added in a statement.
“Management’s efforts were met with a ‘code of silence,’ meaning employees, including the plaintiff, did not provide information that would have allowed the company to pursue necessary action against those engaged in the inappropriate behavior.”
ArcelorMittal insisted it was an “equal opportunity employer” with a “zero tolerance policy for workplace discrimination or harassment.”