Judge says isolated redneck comments not proof of discrimination, case against Tyson dismissed
By Michelle Massey, Texarkana Bureau
TEXARKANA, Ark.- A few "redneck" jokes over a period of several years are not enough to substantiate claims of racial discrimination and a hostile work environment, a recent court opinion stated.
In a 32-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Harry F. Barnes dismissed the claims of Allen Bishop, an African-American who was hired by Tyson as a chicken catcher for its Nashville location.
Alleging violation of the Civil Rights Act, Bishop filed the lawsuit against Tyson on July 2, 2007, in the Texarkana Division of the Western District of Arkansas.
Bishop worked at Tyson from Sept. 12, 2005, until he resigned on Aug. 8, 2007. Bishop’s crew was taken to chicken houses where they would catch the chickens using a large, self-propelled catching machine.
The lead man would operate the machine’s catch arm that would swing back and forth and pull chickens onto the machine’s conveyor belt. Two catchers would stir up the birds so the machine would catch them. At the back of the machine, two additional catchers would direct the chickens into cages.
Bishop claims that two of his crew’s truck drivers showed him and another African-American a string tied into a hanging noose.
Allegedly, one of the drivers said, "all rednecks know how to make hanging nooses" and then showed Bishop a "Klan" tattoo. The next day, Bishop says he reported the incident to a supervisor.
Several meetings later, his co-workers were chastised for their behavior and said they would not joke about topics such as "redneck" or "Klan" again. The supervisor told Bishop that Tyson would not tolerate such behavior and that everyone would be treated equally.
In the court opinion, Judge Barnes wrote that this isolated incident was not enough to be a discriminatory charge.
Bishop claims the Klan comments stopped but the crewmembers continued to make redneck comments about themselves. Bishop claims that a co-worker would wear an offensive T-shirt that said "something about rednecks liking to hunt and fish."
The plaintiff also complained that a group of crewmembers wore Confederate flag bandanas to work and two crewmembers wore T-shirts depicting the Confederate flag.
After complaining to his supervisors twice, the crewmembers did not wear the Confederate flag clothing again.
But Bishop also complains that the "N" word was used in his presence.
The supervisors again investigated and found that a worker had used the term twice about himself. The worker was given a written disciplinary warning for using inappropriate and offensive language.
Bishop filed many other complaints with his supervisors, which were investigated.
He claimed that he had his safety goggles taken, had a chicken thrown at him, had his Subway sandwich stolen, had been falsely accused of overloading chicken cages, had been yelled at and had his Diet Coke stolen.
Bishop claimed that he was discriminated against for needing his vacation request approved, not getting the opportunity for overtime work, and that he was not equally assigned time in the different crew positions.
Bishop stated that he thought Tyson "was building a case" against him and that was a form constructive discharge.
The plaintiff filed a formal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after a co-worker refused to switch positions with him.
In a second letter, Bishop claimed "his lead man made him do less desirable jobs than white employees and had allowed a co-worker to threaten him."
Judge Barnes agreed with Tyson’s motion for summary judgment.
Barnes wrote that while Bishop was a member of a protected class and subject to unwelcome harassment, Tyson took prompt and effective remedial action.
Further, the judge wrote, "three racial slurs, not directed at Bishop, over a two year period are not severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment."
Judges Barnes dismissed the plaintiff’s claims of hostile work environment, disparate treatment and constructive discharge on Aug. 14.