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Feds Side With Sara Lee Workers Subjected To Racist Taunts

CHICAGO (STMW) -- The feds have sided with employees of a now-shuttered Sara Lee plant, finding managers at the Texas facility subjected African-American workers to racist taunts while assigning them to the factory's most dangerous jobs.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigated the plant, which closed in 2011, for two years after dozens of employees filed complaints against Chicago-based Sara Lee, which has since morphed into Hillshire Brands.

Employee bathrooms were covered in racial graffiti, with phrases such as "KKK" and "we hate these n——" accompanied by crude drawings of apes and black men hanging from nooses, according to a separate federal lawsuit filed by employees who were not covered by the EEOC complaint.

In some cases, the white managers overseeing the plant were the ones responsible for the ugly screeds, Janet V. Elizondo, the Dallas director of the EEOC, wrote in her Jan. 23 finding.

Meanwhile, Sara Lee management steered black employees toward hazardous assignments while favoring less-experienced white workers for promotions, the EEOC found. Blacks were also disproportionately assigned to jobs where they were exposed to asbestos, black mold and other toxins.

When employees complained "about an increasing number of black employees who were falling ill and being diagnosed with cancer," management "would either ignore the questions entirely or deny that the environment was hazardous," the EEOC found.

Hillshire Brands spokesman Dan Fogleman said the company "thrives" on diversity and does "not tolerate the harassment or discrimination that is being alleged."

He declined to comment on specifics, citing pending litigation.

As a result of the ruling, the employees can enter into settlement discussions with Hillshire Brands. If Hillshire declines to offer a settlement acceptable to the EEOC, the matter can be brought to court.

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2015. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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