July 10, 2015 – An African-American assistant superintendent has filed a racial harassment lawsuit against his former employer, after the superintendent assaulted him with a noose and made threatening and racist comments. As documented in photos and videos taken at the time of harassment, while working in Lafayette, the employee (who is identified for his safety only as Nicholas P.) was forced to confront a noose in the construction site office of SRM Development LLC. The noose hung in the office for two days and was not removed until the victim sent pictures of the noose, via email, to company co-owner Dee McGonigle at SRM headquarters in Spokane, Washington.
As the complaint describes, the harassment began on August 7, 2014, when Dan Schaeffer, a superintendent, threw the noose end of a rope over a cubicle wall in the office. After the noose hit Nicholas P.’s hardhat, Schaeffer loudly asked other employees, “Did I get him?” and added, “that’s how we do them in Idaho.” The noose remained dangling on the cubicle wall and Nicholas P. left work early because of the incident. When he returned the next day, Nicholas P. found the noose still hanging over his cubicle wall. Later that day, Gabe McCarthy, an SRM project engineer, moved the noose to the middle of the room, telling Nicholas P. that it would fit him better there.
The racial threats and taunting did not end there. According to the allegations of the Complaint, when Nicholas P. returned to the office after a lunch break, he found that a police sketch of a black man, on which his name had been written, had been hung in the loop of the noose. The sketch had been previously left at the office by the police, who were investigating a theft. Terrified by the escalating situation, Nicholas P. left work. That weekend, he emailed the photos to McGonigle. The following week, when he was required to work with Schaeffer, the superintendent asked Nicholas, “why did you snitch?” Later that day Schaeffer bragged that he was a good “sniper” and said “I can’t wait to bring my rifle down here.” Schaeffer made these comments while looking at Nicholas P, who understood these comments to be a threat to his life.
Leslie F. Levy and Jean Hyams of Levy Vinick Burrell Hyams LLP represent Nicholas P. in the case which was filed in Alameda County Superior Court on July 9, 2015.
In conjunction with filing the case, attorneys for Nicholas P. have released a few of the photos taken by their client. Leslie Levy commented, “These images should send a chill down the spine of every American as a reminder that racism and violence against African-Americans are not just things from the past. There is no denying that racism still infects our society. As hard as it is to look at these images, it was important to expose what is happening in American workplaces, even a liberal state like California.”
The lawsuit includes claims for violations of California’s hate crimes statute, assault, battery and racial harassment in violation of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act.
Levy Vinick Burrell Hyams LLP is an Oakland-based firm specializing in representing employees. A copy of the complaint filed it Nicholas P. v. SRM can be accessed by clicking here.