Nucor’s African American Employees Reach Settlement in Discrimination Case
African American Nucor Corp steel mill workers who alleged they were victims of racial discrimination at the company’s location in Berkeley County are now set to get at least $100,000 each as part of a class action lawsuit that was just settled. The settlement, which one of the attorneys on the case called “substantial,” provides closure to the court battle that began fourteen years ago, in 2004. Nucor never admitted to any wrongdoing.
Initial allegations of hostile working conditions date as far back as 2002, with African American employees claiming in court documents that their Caucasian counterparts used racial comments when talking to them, and routinely displayed Confederate flags, nooses, and other hate symbols. They also claimed they were denied promotions and other benefits merely because of their race.
The employment and equal rights violation lawsuit was filed first in 2003 against Nucor mills in four states – Alabama, Arkansas, South Carolina and Texas. That lawsuit, filed in an Arkansas court, was transferred to South Carolina in 2004.
“I’m relieved and happy for my clients that they’ve finally gotten this behind them,” said Robert Wiggins Jr., a civil rights attorney who represented the workers. Nucor’s attorney stated they believe the agreement offers a fair resolution as well.
“Given what the six Arkansas plaintiffs had to endure since their suit was filed in 2003 – not to mention the indignities they suffered which led to the case in the first place – any one of them will tell you this victory is about a lot more than money,” Wiggins added. “In the bigger picture, it’s about getting Nucor to treat its black employees with the same decency and respect as they give other employees.”
Wiggins said his legal team is still figuring out how many of the current and former Nucor steel mill employees will qualify to receive settlement funds. There were 114 claims filed, but not all of them will qualify, he said. The attorneys representing the workers will get $10 million, while the remaining $12.5 million is to be split among an unspecified number of African American workers employed at the Berkeley plant between Dec. 2, 1999, and April 27, 2011.
“This is one of the most intensive types of class-action cases ever tried,” said Armand Derfner, a Charleston attorney who also represented the workers. Derfner said a lot of preparation went into arguing the case, and his legal team spent more than 10,000 hours working on it. “These are astronomical numbers, but this is an astronomical case,” he said.
John Wilkerson, a lawyer representing Nucor, said the steel company is already complying with parts of the settlement agreement, including establishing non-discrimination training for its employees and the reiteration of company policies forbidding discrimination.
While substantial, the payout by Nucor amounts to less than two percent of the company’s $1.32 billion in net income it reported in 2017. Charlotte-based Nucor has invested about $1 billion in its Berkeley County plant, including a major expansion in 2013 that allows the plant to produce thinner, wider and higher-grade varieties of steel.