Los Angeles Sentinel - 9/30/99 - Worker Finds 'Lynched' Coke Bottle In Auto Plant; Sues Toyota For Racism

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FROM THE LOS ANGELES SENTINEL/September 30, 1999
WORKER FINDS 'LYNCHED' COKE BOTTLE IN AUTO PLANT; SUES TOYOTA FOR RACISM
By Betty Pleasant
Sentinel Contributing Writer

Coke

Comes now James Callier, a black employee of a Long Beach Toyota company, who filed a $5 million lawsuit in Superior Court recently alleging racial harassment and discrimination in his workplace.

Callier sued TABC Inc., an auto parts-making subsidiary of Toyota Motor Manufacturing of North America, for whom he is a press operator, claiming that on Sept. 14, 1998 he found a coke bottle on his desk that had been painted black, with eyes drawn in and wool-textured material glued on as hair.

Callier's suit alleges that a rope fashioned into a hangman's noose was wrapped around the neck of the bottle, simulating a lynching.

Upon seeing the lynched bottle figure, "Mr. Callier immediately understood he had become the direct target of what seemed to be a known and tolerated, racially hostile work environment that existed at the company," said Toni J. Jaramilla, Callier's attorney.

In his suit, Callier contends that he and other employees at the Toyota company were made to tolerate racist slurs on a daily basis, that swastikas were drawn on the equipment and that "N___go back to Africa" was scrawled on the company's bathroom walls in plain view of the supervisors, who, themselves, addressed African American employees as "n____"or "black boy," Callier"s complaint states. Callier claims that he, himself, was directly addressed as a "damn n____" by a white employee.

Callier was hired by the company in 1992 and continues to work there. "He should not be the one to leave," Jaramilla said. "He's been a victim and he did nothing wrong."

Jaramilla said her client complained to supervisors about the alleged racist work environment in the plant about 10 to 15 times. "It was only this final incident with the lynched Coke bottle when he finally said 'enough' and filed the lawsuit," she said.

The local chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality held a news conference last Thursday at which it called for a boycott of Toyota products in a show of support for Callier, and the group plans to demonstrate at the Long Beach plant this week.

TABC's Vice President David Dedinsky denied all of Callier's claims and told the City News Service: "We refute the charges and intend to defend the action. As a company, we make a very strong effort to create a positive work environment, which is free from any racial, sexual or religious harassment of any sort."

He said the company, which employs people of "24 to 26 different nationalities," acted promptly when the coke bottle was found.

"This particular episode was fully investigated, and we even took steps to offer a $1,000 reward for any eyewitnesses, and had professional fingerprinting tests performed on any of the objects in question. All of that was unsuccessful." Dedinsky continued.

The company official said Callier's claims that his complaints to supervisors were ignored are "not true."

"We reacted instantly, as soon as we found that bottle. We reacted at the first complaint," he said.