Black workers describe details of 'living hell' at UPS center in Ohio

CNN's Sara Sidner speaks to two workers at a UPS facility in Maumee, Ohio, who -- along with 18 other workers at the same center -- have filed a lawsuit against the parcel delivery company alleging racial harassment and discrimination.

Posted: Mar 15, 2019 1:50 PM
Updated: Mar 15, 2019 1:50 PM

Pamela Camper cries herself to sleep at night.

That's how hard she says it is for an African-American to work at the UPS facility in Maumee, Ohio. She's been there for 30 years, but the racist atmosphere still feels like the 1960s, she says.

"I work with employees that I know that don't like my skin color, but yet, and still I have to deal with it," Camper says.

One white female driver refused to deliver a package to a predominantly black neighborhood she referred to as "Nigger City" and "NiggerVille," Camper said.

She says she reported it under UPS's zero-tolerance policy, but the driver was not disciplined. UPS disputes the claim, saying they "discharged that employee days afterward, and fought the case through arbitration to have the discharge upheld. However, through arbitration, despite UPS's best efforts, an arbitrator reinstated the employee."

Camper says working at the UPS facility is "a living hell."

Camper and 18 other workers at the same center have filed a lawsuit against the parcel delivery company alleging racial harassment and discrimination. They also allege management either ignored or encouraged the behavior.

UPS's director of corporate media relations Glenn Zaccara told CNN the reported behavior was "abhorrent" and against company values. He added that action had been taken, including discharging two employees.

But Camper sees a different picture. "I cry every night because nothing has changed," she says. "Not only do I cry for myself, I cried for the black employees that worked in that facility because I see it all."

One of those employees is Antonio Lino. He and Camper both describe feeling beaten down during their time at UPS, overlooked by management for jobs, harassed by co-workers because of the color of their skin and ultimately feel the company has done nothing to fix a work environment they believe is hostile and retaliatory against black workers. UPS's Zaccara maintains the company "promptly investigated and took swift disciplinary action" on incidents at the center.

Lino says he couldn't ignore the harassment that was literally hanging over his head one time in July 2016.

"I walked into work, I set up like I normally do, and I just happened to look over my shoulder and it was a noose hanging over my workspace first thing Monday morning," Lino says.

He interpreted it as a threat to his life. And he snapped a photo.

"I took a picture of it because they'll say it didn't happen," he says. "So you got to have proof. You gotta have proof."

Lino claims he was told to delete the photo, according to the lawsuit.

"I was told to delete it ... I was told to keep the pictures to myself, get rid of them and they'll take care of it," he says.

But he woke up the next day concerned the incident would be swept under the rug if he was being asked to delete the photo. So he posted it on social media.

Lino says he was told two employees had hung the noose "as a joke."

"There was two employees playing around with each other and one decided to take the time and make a real-life, 13-knot noose," Lino said UPS told him. "And that was a joke to them."

He says UPS did fire a worker a year later and that worker admitted to hanging the noose.

UPS disputes Lino's timeline.

"Three business days after the incident with the noose, UPS fired the employee who is named in the complaint as the culprit," Zaccara said in a statement to CNN. "Additionally, the company has replaced the vast majority of the leadership team at this facility, as well as others at a district leadership level."

Since then, the company has participated in "remedial actions," UPS's Zaccara said.

Zaccara says the company has cooperated with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission "so that employees are trained and our operations are monitored to ensure we maintain a positive work environment, free of harassment."

The Ohio Civil Rights Commission, which enforces state laws against discrimination, ruled in June 2017 that there was "probable cause to believe that discrimination and retaliation had occurred" at the Maumee location.

Zaccara said: "The company has strict policies against harassment and discrimination. Diversity and inclusion are core values at UPS -- a diverse and inclusive work environment helps our employees feel safe and valued every day, spurs innovation and new ideas, and reflects the diversity of the global community served by our company.

"When an incident is reported, UPS takes the matter seriously, thoroughly investigates and takes appropriate disciplinary action against those found responsible for misconduct."

This is not the first time UPS has faced a racial discrimination lawsuit. A jury awarded $5.3 million in a Kentucky case claiming racial bias. UPS initially appealed the ruling, but Zaccara says the case is now closed.

He added the company will not comment further on the Ohio allegations while they review the claims.

Both Lino and Camper described an atmosphere of nervousness, concern and fear for black workers.

"You never know who's looking at you, who's hiding behind the corner, who was in the parking lot. You just never know," Lino says.

Lino and Camper describe several incidents which they say contributed to that feeling of uneasiness and worry. Lino describes how the word "nigger" was written in the bathroom. Despite a cleaning crew working there each night, it would take weeks for the word to finally go away, Lino says.

The lawsuit details a variety of incidents in the UPS distribution center during their years working there where they say no action was taken.

They include a group text message from white co-workers about possible lottery winnings in July 2016 being used to buy nooses and hanging people, according the lawsuit. And in September 2016, "a white employee of UPS stated: 'I'm late for a Klan meeting,'" according to the suit.

Sixteen of the 19 workers suing UPS gathered and shared how they all felt neglected at the company because they were black, and that they were passed over for jobs because of the color of their skin.

"I've been here for 30 years," Camper says. "I've had problems getting promoted because of the color of my skin. I've worked in different departments and yet I'm still part time."

She cares for her 86-year-old mother and has been part time her entire three decades at UPS, she says.

The group of 16 says nobody took their complaints about any of these issues seriously. All said they had experienced or been aware of harassment based on race at the plant. All 16 also felt that nothing would change, even with the lawsuit.

Camper calls working at the UPS center demeaning -- 30 years of hurtful frustration. She began crying as she explained the pain and frustration she says she has endured.

She and others stayed because they needed and wanted a good job.

"You're fighting just to exist. Just to be able to walk inside a facility and feel like, you know what, I'm important. I belong here," she says.

It cuts just as deep for Lino.

He has one request for his company: "To treat me like I'm a grown man, not a little boy, to treat me like I earned my job, my 25 years," Lino says, growing emotional.

"I've been working there since I was 18, one week out of high school, and still get treated like I'm nothing every day.

"I just want to work, pay my bills, take care of my kids, my wife."

This story has been updated to include new comments from UPS.

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