Carolina Mattress Guild in Thomasville settles EEOC racial disrimination lawsuit for subjecting black employees to racially hostile work environment

Carolina Mattress Guild in Thomasville has settled a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for $42,000 for allegedly subjecting two black employees to a racially hostile work environment and unlawfully firing the employee who complained about the racial comments.

Ricky Clark will receive a $35,000 settlement payment, and Kenneth Clark, who is not related to Ricky Clark, will receive a $7,000 settlement payment.

Although the two sides settled the lawsuit to avoid further legal costs and delay of continuing litigation, the EEOC still stands behind its allegations against the company, and the company still denies any discrimination against the two men.

Attorney Kevin Joyner, from the law firm Ogletree Deakins based in Raleigh who represented Carolina Mattress Guild, said the owners of the company have always tried to maintain a professional work environment, and they were bound by financial restraints to discontinue with the litigation.

"Carolina Mattress Guild is a family-run business that for decades has strived to maintain a workplace free of discrimination, " Joyner said. "The owners took these allegations seriously and continuously denied them, but had to settle due to the cost of litigation. Economic realities drove them to this decision because they (the plaintiffs) were prepared to fight these charges to the end."

Representatives for the EEOC were not available for comment about the settlement.

The lawsuit stated that Ricky Clark, who began working at the company in March 2012 as a truck loader, was subjected to racial epithets, including the n-word, by white employees between June and August 2012.

The complaint also states Clark reported the incidents to company management, but the racial slurs continued. According to the EEOC documents, Clark was fired Aug. 9, 2012, three days after his last complaint.

The lawsuit states another employee, Kenneth Clark, was also subjected to the same racial epithet by the white employees.

As part of the settlement agreement, the company will provide Ricky Clark with a neutral letter of reference, will provide to any potential employer only the information set forth in the letter of reference and change all employment records to reflect that Clark's separation of employment was due to a layoff. The settlement also requires the company to eliminate from the employment records any references of any events related to the filing of the EEOC lawsuit.

Also included in the settlement agreement, Carolina Mattress Guild will redistribute its nondiscrimination policy to each employee, manager and supervisor, as well as review its policy with each new employee at the time of hiring.

It will also provide annual training to all of its managers, supervisors and employees explaining the requirement of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its prohibitions against racial harassment in the workplace.

Carolina Mattress Guild is also required to submit a report to the EEOC every six months for the next three years, regardless of whether it has received any complaints about discrimination or harassment.

Joyner said the owners of Carolina Mattress Guild have always had an antidiscrimination policy and take any employee complaints seriously.

"This is standard fare for a EEOC settlement," Joyner said. "The company has had these policies in place for years and has done employee training in the past. The owners have tried to maintain a workplace where all employees are respected and no one is discriminated against."

Sharon Myers can be reached at 249-3981, ext, 228 or Follow Sharon on Twitter: @LexDisptachSM