NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Almost two dozen former employees claim they were discriminated against by Lyon Shipyard in Norfolk.
Lyon Shipyard sits on the Elizabeth River between Harbor Park and the Campostella Bridge.
The original complaint against Lyon was filed in November by six former employees. The complaint was recently amended to include 21 former employees, who say black lives are valued less than white live’s at the workplace. The complaint includes claims of racial degradation, top down racial hatred, and racial violence.
“It was a nightmare. It was daily harassment,” said Kelton McBride, who worked as a pipe fitter at Lyon Shipyard for six years. “I was called ‘boy.’ I was a man who had served in the military [for 11 years] and worked to get to the level I was at. I had to still be called boy?”
The lawsuit alleges constant use of the “n” word for workers entering the yard. Words like ‘boy’ and ‘monkey’ were used, too. McBride said the treatment was demeaning, hurtful and intimidating.
“Always hearing jokes and wise cracks about blacks having big lips. They would say, ‘don’t worry about it if the lights go off in the ship. You just smile, and we’ll find you. We can see your eyes and teeth and things like that.'”
In the complaint are claims of nooses hanging around the yard and a fist fight involving a supervisor.
McBride alleges Lyon made African-American workers do the dirty jobs without protective clothing. “We weren’t given proper clothing … the stench was unbearable. It was so bad. If you left the yard, went to the store, people could smell it in your clothing.”
On Thursday, 10 On Your Side called Lyon Shipyard President George Lyon, who immediately hung up. We then went looking for him at the Shipyard. A woman speaking through a speaker said the shipyard had no comment. 10 On Your Side called Lyon again, and his answering message said, “Hello, this is George. Leave a message.” His attorney didn’t call us back either.
WAVY.com would have asked Lyon about McBride, who said he was passed over for job advancements.
“What makes this case so extraordinary: the verbal racial abuse was combined with actual violence and extraordinary working danger, and it was rubbed in the faces of the victims,” said Joshua Friedman, the attorney representing the former employees.
Why didn’t McBride complain to make things better? Well, he said he did.
“They have this human rights department. They say there will be no repercussions if you have any type of discrimination. I turned in my paperwork, and a month and a half later I was fired,” McBride said.
The federal complaint could become a big deal for Lyon Shipyard. Friedman said Lyon is a federal military contractor, and if these allegations are proved in court, Lyon could be barred from any federal contracts.
10 On Your Side was not able to get a single comment from Shipyard President George Lyon or his attorney on Thursday. However, on Friday morning, Senior Vice President Ken Kimball sent over the following statement:
Lyon shipyard is an equal opportunity employer and does not tolerate race discrimination or harassment in the workplace. The Company has investigated the allegations contained in the lawsuit and determined conclusively that they are without merit. Consequently, Lyon Shipyard filed its Answer and Defenses to the Complaint yesterday in Federal Court. Lyon Shipyard is confident that a jury will also conclude that the Plaintiffs were not the victims of race discrimination or harassment.