Several workers recently filed equal employment opportunity complaints against Verizon, accusing their employer of racial discrimination and ignoring or retaliating against them for making allegations.
Latasha French has worked at a call center in Verizon’ corporate office in Irving, Texas for over 17 years. She recently filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaint with the support of her colleague, Jennifer Womack. She claimed rampant racial discrimination has occurred within their department at Verizon, which is the largest wireless provider in the United States.
The allegations include claims that Verizon enables a work environment where managers, who are all white, have engaged in racially discriminatory behavior toward a predominantly black workforce and engaged in retaliation against workers, who have made formal complaints.
Both workers have also publicly supported unionization efforts at Verizon with the Communications Workers of America, and noted they’ve experienced harassment and intimidation from management for their union support, and that racism is interlinked with the struggle for union and workers’ rights at Verizon. The workers have called for management to be held accountable for their behavior and for a racial sensitivity training to be implemented company-wide.
A white male manager was accused of constantly wearing an afro wig during work from December 2018 until recent months, despite several complaints from French, Womack, and other workers about the behavior.
“He was making a mockery of us and chastising us with that wig on,” said French. “It was very inappropriate. All our senior managers are white, so it’s not a comfortable working environment.”
French claimed she was ostracized for making complaints about the behavior and harassed with several phone calls from management while on short term medical leave as she was diagnosed with lupus earlier this year.
In the few days she has been able to work since her diagnosis, French said she was written up twice by management, despite never previously receiving any write-ups or reprimands throughout her career at Verizon. She also noted her paychecks have been short for the past two months and have yet to be corrected.
When French was out on medical leave in January 2019, workers recorded another white male manager joyriding on French’s scooter, which she was provided for a disability.
“He decide[d] to play in my chair when I’m not there. A lot of people recorded it. Every time I think about that and go into work, I feel victimized all over again,” French added.”I go into anxiety attacks every time I go into work. My stomach and head hurts because none of my issues have been resolved.”
French and her colleague, Womack, were wrongly accused of stealing from the cafeteria at Verizon in July. The accusation sparked an investigation by Verizon’s human resources department, which ended with French and Womack getting blamed for the baseless accusation.
“After the investigation, we were told by HR we should have just walked away,” Womack recalled.
Earlier this year, Womack confronted Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg in person over the harassment of workers and retaliation.
Several other workers at Verizon have reported issues of racial discrimination against management.
In March, Marisa Powell, a 30-year Verizon employee in Morristown, New Jersey filed a lawsuit against Verizon, alleging that a white co-worker harassed and stalked her in June 2015 but management took no action.
The lawsuit noted the issues persisted for several years, even after she was transferred to a different office in Madison, New Jersey. In a recent incident, Powell discovered a noose left on her desk in February 2019.
At a Verizon retail store in Lancaster, Ohio, Martin Hopkins recently filed an EEOC complaint alleging he was wrongly fired on June 13, after enduring years of racial discrimination and retaliation from management in the six years he worked at the store as a solutions specialist.
“There would be times when customers would come in, either ask or refuse to work with the colored boy, some referred to me with the n-word,” Hopkins said. “Management would say you can’t say anything. A lot of times they would say I would have to take the customer.”
Hopkins claimed one of his managers frequently used the n-word and was never reprimanded by upper management for doing so, despite their knowledge of it. Another manager Hopkins worked under had a Confederate flag tattoo. He did not feel comfortable addressing any racial issues he encountered with that manager.
In a separate incident, Hopkins claimed a manager responded to a complaint he made about air conditioning in the store by suggesting Hopkins could be outside breaking rocks, a reference to chain gangs during the Jim Crow era.
His firing was a result of a disagreement Hopkins had with an assistant manager over providing a customer with a $240 credit they were previously promised as part of turning in a used cell phone. The disagreement ended with a handshake and a laugh, but human resources was later notified by management and terminated Hopkins.
The assistant manager, who worked less time for the company than Hopkins, received no reprimand until local news reports put pressure on Verizon to take action. At that point, the manager was demoted.
Shortly after the incident, Hopkins was notified by phone that there would be an investigation. He was later fired at the store in person by the district manager.
“I felt sick and humiliated, I felt like I was going to throw up watching this guy do this and get enjoyment from it,” Hopkins shared. “I played by the rules but was never approached for management possibility. People were getting promoted over me and getting information to apply to higher positions.”
A coalition of labor unions, local community groups, and faith organizations started a petition and sent Verizon a letter calling on the company to rehire Hopkins and to implement implicit bias training across the company.
“Verizon needs to rehire him in the store and they need to have some serious meaningful training on bias and diversity,” said Linda Hinton, the vice president of the Communications Workers of America District 4 which represents workers in Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Illinois.
Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) also released a statement in August urging Verizon to take action and noted that fighting racism is interconnected with the constant struggle for workers’ rights.
“Dr. King preached the deep connection between civil rights and workers’ rights. The two are inextricably linked and fighting for workers must also mean fighting racism – both blatant and institutional – that makes it even harder for people of color to get ahead, no matter how hard they work,” Brown asserted.
In July 2018, Mario Allen was forced to resign as part of a settlement agreement with Verizon over racist discrimination allegations he made after working as a retail associate in Murfreesboro, Tennessee for nine years.
Allene signed a non-disclosure agreement that prevents him from discussing the details of the allegations but told Shadowproof that racism was pervasive among management throughout his career at the company.
“Verizon supports a racist culture,” Allen said. “Verizon either bullied you out or they fired you for small reasons.”
Verizon did not respond to multiple requests for comment on this story.