US Steel worker claims racial discrimination, wrongful termination

Kelly Holleran Jul. 29, 2011, 3:26am



A black Missouri man claims he lost his job due to the color of his skin.

Mark Lotts claims he worked for defendant U.S. Steel for more than 20 years when he lost his job after a discriminatory manager allegedly helped to terminate him.

Lotts claims he worked as the most senior maintenance technical electrician on the swing shift at U.S. Steel when he returned to work in June 2009 after being laid off in 2008. Upon Lotts' return to work, defendant Jesse Byrd became his supervisor, according to the complaint filed July 14 in Madison County Circuit Court.

Immediately after his return to work, Lotts began to experience harassment from Byrd, the suit states. For instance, on June 29, 2009, Byrd approached Lotts while Lotts was on break in the lunch room and said, "I make double the money that you make, Mark," the complaint says.

Byrd's verbal harassment against Lotts continued until one day in August 2009, Lotts asked Byrd if he made comments because of Lotts' skin color. Later, Lotts claims U.S. Steel managers called him into their office for a meeting and informed him that if he ever asked a similar question again, he would be fired.

On Aug. 8, 2009, the day after the meeting, Lotts was called into Byrd's supervisor's office and told to climb up 80 feet to turn on steam blowers, according to the complaint. When Lotts and his partner reached the top of the 80-foot embankment, they discovered that the blowers were not steam, but electric, and were powered from the floor, the suit states.

"U.S. Steel gave Plaintiff this bogus assignment in the hope that Plaintiff would simply report that the blowers were on without climbing the 80 feet and discovering that the blowers were not steam but electric," the complaint says.

Following the incident, Lotts decided to file a charge with the EEOC, claiming race discrimination and retaliation. After the charge, however, Lotts claims he faced even further harassment, a disregard for his seniority and a hostile work environment.

Two of Lotts's supervisors -- Byrd and Lowery McBride -- allegedly began to accuse him of numerous wrongdoings, such as sleeping on the job and switching a precipitator. Lotts denies responsibility for both actions.

On Oct. 11, 2009, Lotts discovered that his schedule had been changed, according to the complaint. When he approached Byrd about the sudden switch, Byrd said there was "no good reason for changing it," the suit states.

In October 2009, Lotts again decided to file a grievance with the EEOC, the complaint says.

In December 2009, Lotts received a one-day suspension after requesting time off to attend a civil rights convention. In giving the suspension, U.S. Steel asserted that Lotts failed to request the time off a full five days in advance as required by company policy.

By March, Lotts became sick with a 102-degree temperature. Because of his past experience with a heart attack, Lotts called in sick on March 17 and visited his heart doctor, according to his complaint.

When Lotts returned to work, he continued to feel poorly and decided to go into the break room near the end of one of his shifts after finishing all work assigned him that day, the suit states. Byrd walked into the break room to find Lotts seated there and asked Lotts if he was sleeping, the complaint says.

Although Lotts replied that he was not sleeping, Byrd later accused him of sleeping on the job, of assaulting a supervisor, of battery to a supervisor and of threatening behavior, according to the complaint.

Byrd's accusations led to Lotts's five-day suspension and later termination, the suit states.

"Byrd fabricated the aforementioned allegations of misconduct and battery in a systematic effort to create a premeditated, non-discriminatory reason for Plaintiff's termination," the complaint says.

Because of his termination, Lotts remained unemployed for 15 months. During that time, he lost income and was unable to repay his bills. In addition, his car was repossessed and his mortgage went into default, according to the complaint.

In his complaint, Lotts alleges U.S. Steel engaged in unlawful employment practices while both it and Byrd intentionally inflicted emotional distress on Lotts. Both defendants are also accused of defamation.

In his five-count complaint, Lotts is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, plus costs, attorneys' fees and other relief the court deems just.

He will be represented by Thomas P. Rosenfield and Ryan J. Mahoney of Goldenberg, Heller, Antognoli and Rowland in Edwardsville.

Madison County Circuit Court case number: 11-L-698.

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