By Mike Boyer
The Cincinnati Enquirer
A hangman's noose in a cafeteria, racial graffiti, swastikas and Ku Klux Klan videos in an employee lounge comprise a "racially hostile'' environment at AK Steel's Butler, Pa., plant, according to a federal anti-discrimination lawsuit filed in Pittsburgh.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission brought the action Tuesday against the Middletown steel maker. The suit charges AK with creating and condoning a racially hostile work environment for about 20 African-American employees at the Butler mill, about 30 minutes north of Pittsburgh.
Alan McCoy, spokesman for AK Steel, said the company had no comment on the lawsuit. The Butler mill, which produces electrical and stainless steels, employs about 1,950.
AK Steel also faces a racial discrimination class-action lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati. That case was filed last year on behalf of 16 African-Americans who unsuccessfully sought work at the steel maker's Middletown and Ashland, Ky., plants in 2001.
The suit filed here, accusing AK of engaging in "systemic racial discrimination in hiring,'' is pending.
The Pennsylvania lawsuit was initiated by Gerald Patterson, an African-American and employee of the Butler mill, who filed a discrimination complaint with the EEOC.
Despite Patterson's complaints to management, the suit alleges, the company "took no steps to promptly and effectively eradicate the offensive environment."
M. Jean Clickner, EEOC trial attorney, said the agency investigated Patterson's initial complaint for more than a year. During a site visit to the plant in July an EEOC investigator found a noose in an employee cafeteria and was told that it had been hanging there for a couple of years.
The agency filed suit after attempts to work out a settlement short of a lawsuit failed, she said.
Under federal civil rights law, each of the African-American employees could receive compensatory and punitive damages of up to $300,000 from AK Steel.
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