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Civil Rights Settlement in Case of Plumbers/Pipefitters Union Charged with Race-Based Discrimination

 

March 13, 2012 TRENTON – Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa announced today that Plumbers and Pipefitters Local Union No. 9 has agreed to adopt formal anti-discrimination policies and have its members undergo anti-discrimination training to resolve allegations it removed an African-American shop steward from his position because of race.

In addition to the policy and training reforms, the union already has paid the Division on Civil Rights $25,000 to settle the State’s complaint that Plumbers and Pipefitters discriminated against shop steward Jon B. Stokes by replacing him with a white shop steward after Stokes had been on the job for less than half-a-year.

Under terms of the settlement, Plumbers and Pipefitters must create and distribute to its membership clear policies banning discrimination and harassment, and establish internal procedures for handling discrimination complaints. The union also must have its leadership personnel – including top officers, business agents and executive board members, as well as any member working in the field as a foreman or shop steward – undergo in-person training in state and federal civil rights law.

Under a Consent Order filed in state Superior Court, Plumbers and Pipefitters makes no admission of wrong-doing. Stokes’ own discrimination lawsuit against the union remains pending.

“This is an important settlement beyond mere dollars,” said Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa. “This agreement will result in creation of formal anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies by the union, as well as civil rights training for its top executives and job site supervisors. Our commitment is to ensure equality in every workplace, and the best way to accomplish it is through awareness and understanding.”

“This is a fair resolution of some troubling allegations,” said Division on Civil Rights Director Craig Sashihara. “It is vital that all employers strive to create a healthy workplace climate, and that every employee -- from the home office to the job site -- knows and understands the law.”

Stokes, of Franklin Township, Gloucester County, was removed from his position as a shop steward in June 2008 after working in that role for five months at a construction site at Duck Island in Trenton. Stokes was immediately replaced by a white union member who had been on the same job site for approximately two months.

A union business agent told Division investigators that Stokes was removed because of complaints about his performance from boiler makers “here and there” who felt he was not quick enough to respond when they asked for materials. However, the workers who’d ostensibly complained were not identified. And Stokes told investigators he’d never been advised, prior to his dismissal as a shop steward, that there were any complaints about him.

A Finding of Probable Cause issued by the Division in 2009 determined that Stokes had presented union leaders with information about racism playing a role in his removal, but the matter was never properly investigated. The Finding of Probable Cause also noted that the Manalapan-based Plumbers and Pipefitters had no written policies banning racial or other bias-based discrimination, and lacked any written procedures for reporting such conduct.

 

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