Navy veteran sues his company, says he was made to mop floors, demoted because of his race

Ring Power Corporation in St. Augustine, Florida (Google Maps)

Julia Marnin

The Charlotte Observer

A Black veteran hired as a technician was called racial slurs and given “humiliating and degrading” tasks while working for a company in Florida, according to a newly settled federal lawsuit.

“All that (racial slur) is good for is cleaning,” Shakeem Peterson’s then-supervisor, who is white, said of the former Navy technician when he was the only Black worker in his department at Ring Power Corporation in St. Augustine, court documents show.

Now Ring Power, a CAT heavy equipment dealer, has agreed to pay $65,000 to settle a race discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after no action was taken following Peterson’s complaints, according to an Aug. 8 news release.

Ultimately, Peterson resigned in 2017 after his fellow technicians joked he was “nothing more than a maid” and he was demoted following his supervisor’s recommendation to fire him because of his race, according to a complaint.

McClatchy News contacted attorneys listed for Ring Power for comment on Aug. 8 and was awaiting a response.

Ring Power hired Peterson in July 2013 after the naval veteran technician applied to work at the company’s headquarters in St. Augustine while at a job fair in Chicago, court documents show.

“He won’t be here for long,” the supervisor said shortly after Peterson was hired, the complaint states.

This supervisor repeatedly referred to Peterson and Black people using racist language, according to prosecutors.

“Because of Petersen’s race, (the supervisor) routinely assigned Petersen janitorial work assignments such as sweeping, mopping and buffing Ring Power’s shop’s floors,” while he worked there, court documents state.

Meanwhile, the other technicians who were not Black would take on technical work including equipment repair and battery testing, prosecutors say.

After his supervisor argued that Peterson should get fired, Peterson was demoted from working as a technician to being an apprentice, according to the EEOC.

As a result, Peterson was no longer making $38,480 a year; his pay was cut to $21,120 a year, according to the complaint.

When Peterson eventually graduated from the apprentice program, Ring Power refused to give him technical work and continued assigning him janitorial duties, prosecutors say.

“Because of his race, Petersen was the lowest paid Technician at Ring Power among other Technicians in his department,” the complaint states.

No corrective action was taken after Peterson complained to Ring Power managers and human resources about his treatment, which violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the news release says. Title VII prohibits race discrimination.

“It is the unfortunate reality that racial discrimination still plagues many workplaces in Florida,” EEOC regional attorney Robert E. Weisberg said in a statement. “The EEOC will continue to take legal action to root out such conduct.”

The lawsuit settlement comes one month after another company, Lone Wolf Resources, agreed to pay $50,000 to settle allegations of racial discrimination that took place at the company’s Jacksonville worksite, McClatchy News previously reported.

There, management was accused of ordering a supervisor to stop hiring Black workers.

Ring Power, in addition to paying $65,000, must hold specialized trainings regarding race discrimination for its human resources officers and managers, according to the EEOC.

Additionally, Ring Power must “post a notice about the lawsuit, as well as submit two written reports to the EEOC,” the news release says.

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