Four African American men filed lawsuits against a San Francisco construction company this week alleging they were forced to work in a racially hostile work environment.
The men worked for Clark Construction Group at two job sites in The City, 150 Van Ness Ave. and 250 Howard St.
In the two lawsuits, which were filed in San Francisco Superior Court on Wednesday, the men describe bathrooms covered with graffiti using racial epithets and hand soap dispensers that were filled with feces.
Nooses were found hanging on two occasions earlier this year at 250 Howard St. In the second instance, two black dolls were hanging from the noses in a depiction of a lynching. “Kill n——r Craig and kill n——-r Dougie,” was written next to them, referring to two of the plaintiffs, Craig Ogans and Douglas Russell, according to the suit.
“I’m going to pray for these guys who feel they can do this and get away with it, but I wish it would stop,” Russell said at a press conference on Friday. “I’m going to therapy. I’m 58 years old, I’ve never seen a psychiatrist or therapist or anything, but I am now because of the death threats.”
“This is a form of domestic terrorism,” Ogans said. “I’m having nightmares about the stuff I’ve seen and going to therapy. And it’s forever—it sticks in my mind, the stuff I saw, the stuff that I went through. I’d like to see it stop and be prevented from happening again.”
In a written statement, Mike Ricker, a senior vice president at Clark Construction Group, said that Clark put measures in place such as video surveillance equipment and job site signage to deter future incidents.
But Ogans said he was told by a friend at a Clark construction site that another noose was found as recently as three weeks ago.
“He left work one day. Next day, he comes and gets in his elevator, and there’s a noose hanging. He sent me a picture of it. He didn’t want to be mentioned because of the death threats going on,” Ogans said. “But this is still going on.”
Ricker said no one has contacted them about other nooses recently found.
The lawsuit alleges other forms of intimidation included placing feces in the hand soap dispensers a bathroom at the 150 Van Ness Ave. job site. Lawrence Haley, a journeyman plumber, discovered the feces when he was washing his hands on Oct. 4, 2017, according to the suit.
“Plaintiff was immediately overcome with fear, stress, grief and anxiety,” the suit reads. “Plaintiff began shaking as he realized he had open wounds on his hands that could possibly be contaminated by the feces being on his hands.”
On Friday, Haley said he reported the incident immediately and was told they would bring someone to have him checked out on-site, but no one arrived.
“They never showed up. I ended up having to leave on my own, going to my own doctors, getting hepatitis shots all over again. Even after that, there’s no word from Clark,” Haley said.
The suit states that when Haley later told a supervisor that he would be missing work because of a follow-up doctor appointment, the supervisor threatened his job, saying, “Really? What else can a doctor do? We are all grown men, you need to get over this. If you can’t let me know, I will let you go. It’s a little embarrassing, but we are all grown men.”
A year later, Haley said he is still affected by the experience.
“When I see the soap dish at any bathroom I go to, it just re-triggers it, and I step right out,” he said. “It’s very uncomfortable to speak about.”
“We’re all union guys here, we shouldn’t have to work under conditions like this. We’re professionals, and no one was allowed on that job site unless they were a professional tradesman. That’s the hardest part about it,” Haley said. “All I want to do is go to work, do right by my family, come home safe every day.”
Attorney John Burris, who represents the four workers, called the harassment systemic.
“You’re talking about eight months at a site they were there, constant activity — constant, daily. There was never a period of time when it wasn’t on the walls,” Burris said. “That’s not random. That’s designed to intimidate, to harass, and make you quit.”