Accusations of a racially-charged work environment and tied noose cost a New Jersey county authority $97,000.
Scott Henry, a former employee of New Jersey’s Atlantic County Utilities Authority, filed a lawsuit in August 2015 claiming he’d been harassed by two coworkers.
Henry, who is black, said he’d found a noose “hanging from a chair in his work truck” in July. He decided to initiate legal proceedings after his employer failed to take the incident. Rather than punishing the two men Henry say were responsible, Atlantic County Utilities Authorities simply told them to “stop joking around.”
A little under a year later, Atlantic County settled with Scott Henry. The terms of the lawsuit dictated the payment sum be kept confidential and also saved the Utilities Authority from admitting wrongdoing.
NJ.com writes that Henry claimed, several years before 2015, a similar incident had affected another black coworker.
Henry said the coworker had found a noose in his vehicle and was greeted by a white coworker with, “How’s it hanging?”
(note NJ.com and The Press of Atlantic City offer divergent accounts, with the latter writing that the comment was directed to Henry after he found a noose in his truck. The Press of Atlantic City does detail a separate noose incident having taken place in 2009, though associates the “How’s it hanging?” comment with Henry)
Over the course of the ten years he worked for the Atlantic County Utilities Authority, Henry claims to have regularly been the victim of workplace discrimination and harassment.
In the lawsuit, Henry describes a workplace environment which would have made any ordinary citizen cringe. Aside from nooses, the employee also had to deal with coworkers who weren’t shy about their racist feelings, prominently displaying Confederate flags on their vehicles as well as sporting white supremacy tattoos.
However, the president of the ACUA, Rick Dovey, said the noose incident, as relayed by Henry, “isn’t exactly what happened.”
He said the Atlantic County Utilities Authority wouldn’t be introducing any new policies or revising any already existing, explaining that “Things like this are not tolerated around here, and someone could lose their job from something like this.
“But we were never able to identify who did it,” said Dovey, somewhat at odds with Henry. Dovey also speculated the noose could have been planted by persons not affiliated with the ACUA, since other people have access to company property.
Henry says Dovey’s consolation was that nothing could be done, since they were “dealing with kids” whose behavior apparently couldn’t be corrected.
NJ.com also notes another racial discrimination lawsuit was filed several months after Henry’s. According to that complaint, other coworkers had been making “racially charged” comments about Mexican immigrants “heating up their rice and beans.” It also says a white employee had been displaying a swastika tattoo while wearing his company uniform.