Racial harassment on the job — that’s what a Black construction employee says he was dealing with for months at the build site on Microsoft’s campus in Redmond.
Quinte Harris is a construction laborer who is working on the garage parking area, a part of the project that’s run by Skanska Balfour Beatty. He says after multiple racially-charged incidents and filing complaints, his supervisors removed him from his work team.
Now Harris and his attorney have filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
“Very proud to be on these projects,” Harris said.
“We are a very proud union family, very proud,” said his wife, Traci Harris.
Quinte Harris says there are about 110 people working on his project, — with him being the only Black man.
“I thought we were all equal‚ — we’re all on this project together,” Harris said. “I never brought it up, not once,” he said.
But recently, a string of incidents shook this family.
“It was horrifying,” Traci Harris said.
“I reported every incident and nobody did anything,” Quinte Harris said.
Harris said the harassment started in May when a team lead approached him.
“Our lead said, ‘hey Q’ — they call me ‘Q’ — ‘I would like to tell you something. I have something on my mind.’ And I thought it was work-related. So I said, ‘yeah, sure, what’s going on?’ And he said, ‘Well, just wanted to let you know that my feelings about Black Lives Matter and Black folks, especially the ones down south — I don’t like them, I don’t care for the movement. I think they came up here and messed everything up.’ I looked at him‚ — I didn’t know what to say,” Harris said.
“As we began to walk away, he threatened our jobs. He said, ‘Watch what you do or say, because there’s going to be layoffs pretty soon,’” Harris said.
Harris says he and another employee who overheard the statement reported the incident to their foreman.
Unrelated to the incident, Skanska Balfour Beatty rolled out a “Safe from Hate” initiative, handing out stickers and posting flyers with “speak up” hotline numbers around campus.
But Harris says after that training, another incident happened.
On a cart feet away from where he works, — someone left a cardboard sign with a handwritten message that said, “NOT a safe zone sorry.”
“I took a picture of it and sent it to my foreman, and nothing was done of it., as if they ignored it,” Harris said.
“That’s really hard to hear because a construction site is a very dangerous place. — very dangerous. You count on your coworkers to have your back, in case — ‘I didn’t see that,’ or ‘hey, watch your step.’ And if these people weren’t looking out for my husband, you know that’s really dangerous,” said his wife, Traci Harris, getting emotional.
Quinte Harris says he called the “Safe from Hate” hotline on the flyers.
“I spoke with a person on the other line about three times and nobody has ever reached out to me,” Harris said.
“I asked my foreman multiple times. There’s supposed to be zero tolerance toward hate on the campus and the job site, and it seems like that’s not true,” Harris said.
Harris said of his boss’ response, “He told me get over it, find another job. He told me that in front of other coworkers.” He says his boss then actually told him he was fired.
“Fired me on the job,” Harris said.
He says in immediate follow-up meeting, a higher-level boss assured him he was not losing his job.
Instead, they moved Harris to another team. Harris said it still felt inappropriate that he was the one moved to another team, but he says in addition to that, he was not given the proper tools to do his job for about three weeks.
“That in itself was degrading. I felt like it was retaliatory, I felt like it was personal. Because I told on one of their friends who said, ‘I don’t like Black folks, I don’t like Black Lives Matter,’” Harris said. “The other trades(people) I was working with saw my incomplete work. It was as if they were setting me up for someone to complain for them to let me go,” Harris said.
Quinte and Traci Harris said the ordeal dragged on for months, with other incidents also playing occurring. They say it took a major toll on their personal lives and felt like no one was listening or taking any action, despite the reports and meetings.
KIRO7 reached out to Skanska Balfour Beatty about all of this. The company sent a statement saying:
“We are aware of the complaint that was filed by one of our employees. We took the allegations very seriously and conducted a thorough investigation in full cooperation with all parties involved. We are confident in the results of the investigation, and in the measures we have in place to protect our employees. We do not tolerate the kind of behavior described in the complaint at our joint venture or by anyone associated with us. We are committed to providing a safe, diverse, inclusive, and discrimination-free workplace where everyone is valued and respected.”
In a follow-up email, Skanska Balfour Beatty said because of privacy reasons, it would not disclose if any reprimands or training took place for parties involved.
Quinte says after being moved his new work team, he no longer experiences harassment, but he wants to the company to deliver on what they’re preaching and demonstrate that harassment will not be tolerated.
“I would very much like this situation to be a learning tool so that it stops; because the culture that made this OK is still there,” Harris said.
“Are you worried something more serious could happen?” KIRO7′s Deedee Sun asked.
“Every day, every day. It’s terrifying,” said Traci Harris.
“You never know. I’m worried if I continue to speak out about this, my job is going to be in jeopardy. I’m worried my livelihood is going to be in jeopardy. I worry that something may happen on the job site and they’ll say it’s an accident,” Quinte Harris said.
Now he and his attorney, John Cochran, have filed a harassment complaint with the EEOC.
“The law is not supposed to allow that. It’s not supposed to allow people to be put in a hostile work environment,” Cochran said.
The EEOC website says in part, harassment becomes unlawful where “the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.”
“It’s quite painful and no one should ever have to go through this. No one,” Harris said. “That’s why I wanted to tell this story to you — that this needs to be brought to light because this actually did happen,” Harris said.
The laborers’ union, Local 242, said in a letter to Harris that it did not find enough “evidence to collaborate your harassment and retaliation allegations.” Harris and his attorney hope the EEOC will recognize what he went through as harassment.
Since KIRO7 spoke with Harris, several other people who are or were on the construction team are also speaking out. At least one other person has also filed a harassment complaint with the EEOC. The people impacted have also reached out to at least one Seattle city council member to help bring attention to the issue.
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