Iowa boss used slurs to disparage black workers, agency says
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — The Iowa Civil Rights Commission is taking legal action to enforce a $14,700 judgment against a business owner accused of using racial slurs to belittle black employees, court records show.
Bruce Smith, of West Des Moines, and his company, AAA Allied Building Services, have been ordered to pay lost wages and damages to an employee who says he quit due after enduring the racial harassment. The commission filed a lawsuit against Smith this month in district court seeking to collect the damages — a rare formal enforcement action for the agency.
Smith, 66, told The Associated Press last week that the case was “a railroad job” orchestrated by a disgruntled former employee. He said most of the workers he hires are minorities.
“The whole thing was a lie,” he said, adding that he didn’t have enough money to contest the allegations. He hung up when reached for further comment Monday.
The case stemmed from a complaint filed by David Curry, a 62-year-old Des Moines man who worked part-time for Smith’s company on an overnight janitorial crew cleaning area businesses, including Best Buy and Pet Smart stores.
Curry testified during an administrative hearing that Smith, who is white, began referring to him and his black crewmate as “you people” and by racial slurs shortly after Curry was hired in May 2015. He said Smith called them “worthless” and “stupid” followed by epithets, referred to President Barack Obama as “you all’s president,” and once complained that, “I gotta teach you everything. You people don’t pick up on (expletive) if it’s not a basketball or football.”
Curry’s crewmate and immediate supervisor was his friend Keith Kennedy, who is also African-American. Kennedy testified that he heard Smith make those remarks and frequently call the pair lazy.
Curry testified that he complained to Kennedy but didn’t quit when the insults started because he needed the money and tried to “turn the other cheek.” Smith allegedly cut Curry’s hours and refused to pay him wages owed in September 2015. Curry quit and filed a complaint with the commission, which pursued the case to an administrative hearing earlier this year where neither Smith nor his attorney appeared.
Smith told AP that Curry was a poor worker who became angry during a dispute over wages.
Media representatives for Petsmart and Best Buy had no immediate comment, including on whether they still employ Smith’s company.
Administrative Law Judge Laura Lockard ruled in June that Smith and his company “blatantly disregarded” the Iowa Civil Rights Act by engaging in discriminatory employment practices. She found that Smith created a hostile work environment based on race and constructively discharged Curry. Lockard ordered that Smith and his company pay Curry $7,200 for lost wages and $7,500 for emotional distress and gave him 90 days to participate in two hours of anti-discrimination training.
Smith did not appeal the order but hasn’t complied with it, either. The commission’s petition, filed in Polk County and served on Smith last week, seeks to compel him to do so.
The commission processed more than 1,200 employment discrimination claims in 2017, according to its annual report. But the vast majority were closed after an initial review or settled through mediation while only a handful progressed to administrative hearings and formal enforcement action.