Black rank-and-file worker facing racism, told to shut up: lawsuit

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CHEYENNE, Wyoming (AP) — A Black civilian groundskeeping and kitchen worker at an Air Force base in Wyoming was retaliated against and ultimately fired for complaining when other workers called him racial epithets, according to a lawsuit.

A supervisor told Bryan Wheels to keep quiet about racial harassment, which began soon after he was hired in 2015 and continued through 2017, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit against Skils’kin has said. , based in Spokane, Wash.

After he fired Wheels in December 2017, Skils’kin did not follow his practice of honoring his seniority by rehiring him that winter. Instead, the nonprofit gave employment to a younger white employee, the EEOC said in its lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court for Wyoming in Cheyenne.

The company also did not offer Wheels a job the following spring, according to the lawsuit.

“It’s quite concerning how egregious the conduct was and how the employer failed to address it,” EEOC regional attorney Mary O’Neill said Thursday. “There is such a low percentage of African Americans in Wyoming. We worry when there are very few African Americans in the workplace and there is hostility like this.

Wheels was the only black member of the Skils’kin contract crew at FE Warren Air Force Base, which oversees 150 Minuteman nuclear missiles in underground silos in Wyoming, Nebraska and Colorado.

Skils’kin hires people for contract and government jobs in Wyoming, Washington and Montana, according to the company’s website.

The nonprofit subjected Wheels to “serious and persistent racial harassment,” according to the lawsuit.

At one point, after Wheels complained about a co-worker’s racist comments, a supervisor put him on a two-man field crew with the worker who made the remarks, the lawsuit said.

The EEOC sought to negotiate an out-of-court settlement with Skils’kin but was unsuccessful, according to the federal agency.

Phone messages left Wednesday with Skils’kin and FE Warren Air Force Base seeking comment on the lawsuit were not immediately returned.

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