Nine former Memphis AT&T warehouse employees have filed a lawsuit against the company for firing them after a white supervisor allegedly threw a noose at a black manager.
According to the lawsuit, supervisor Bruce Allman made a noose and tossed it at Earnest Johnson during a 2017 meeting about the consequences of improving performance and finding two missing iPhones at the Capleville-area warehouse.
The plaintiffs, including Johnson, said they were terminated after making complaints against Allman.
The company launched an internal investigation that cleared Allman of any wrongdoing. Allman and Johnson both said Allman was making a joke about the Green Bay Packers football team “choking”. Johnson now claims he only said that statement because he was afraid of losing his job.
“I did not feel threatened at all,” Johnson said in his original, since-renounced statement. “The harness was attached to a forklift and it was short. I didn’t see anything threatening about it. It was funny. The only thing I’m mad about is the Cowboys did lose.”
Although Allman admitted that his action was the result of poor judgment, Johnson was still permanently laid off.
Van Turner, a Shelby County commissioner and the attorney representing the former AT&T workers, said that it isn’t okay to throw a noose at a black worker, especially in the South.
“When you do something like this to individuals who lived through Jim Crow, this is very weighty to them,” Turner said. “In today’s society, we cannot allow things like this to go unchecked.”
AT&T spokesman Joe Chandler made the following statement about the lawsuit:
“We do not tolerate discrimination of any kind. This occurred over two years ago and we thoroughly investigated it, and absolutely no evidence of any discrimination or threat was found. The facts don’t support these allegations.”
Chandler also said that the investigation “found no one involved in the conversation felt there was any intent to threaten or discriminate against anyone.”
However, the plaintiffs allege that they were never interviewed about the incident, and that AT&T violated its policies by failing to investigate the incident more thoroughly, not disciplining the supervisor, and retaliating against the workers for making the complaint.