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Black Workers From Bay Area Shipyard Allegedly Called 'Aunt Jemima,' N-Word Refuse Cash Settlement Requiring Silence

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- A San Francisco shipyard that gets big defense contracts with the Navy is now under fire for alleged racial harassment and discrimination.

BAE is a major ship repair yard in the Bay Area, and a big defense contractor. But according to some current and former employees, what went on behind the security gate while they were working here  is chilling.

"I was referred to as the 'big, fat, black girl…Aunt Jemina," says former welder Brenda King.

Some say it was a hostile working environment where gender and race harassment was allegedly the norm.

Gary Brown was a rigger who worked here for 24 years. "They used the 'n----r' word. Seven days a week," he said.

Rigger Gary Brown and welder Brenda King sued. The shipyard offered cash settlements, but there was a requirement to keep silent about the racial accusations.

"That was a slap in the face," says King.

She and Brown said no deal.

"People need to know what happened," says King, "You made me cry. You hurt me."

Their attorney Simona Farrise wants state lawmakers to make it illegal to require confidentiality in settlement deals.

"It should be against law to require someone to give up their First Amendment right just because they want to settle a lawsuit because of someone else's bad behavior," she says.

That behavior allegedly included racial slurs and derogatory comments or pictures scrawled on walls or workspaces.

At one time, a noose with a dummy was found hanging near the electrical shop.

Brown and King claim human resources did nothing when they complained.

King loved her job -- but says she and other black workers were set up to fail.

Given the worst jobs, passed over for promotion. And if they complained, there was retaliation.

In taped depositions, former BAE general manager Hugh Vanderspek said they took the allegations seriously--but conceded they haven't found the culprits behind the slurs.

"We will not shut down production in a shipyard," he said, "to stop 200-300 men and women doing their jobs to ask them about, 'did you see somebody who wrote this…This here?'"

But Brown accuses the boss of being racist too, saying he "overheard Vanderspek refer to blacks as monkeys..."

In a statement to KPIX 5, shipyard managers wrote, in part: "We value our employees...and that BAE is dedicated to ensuring an inclusive and diverse workplace…And have established policies prohibiting discrimination in our workplace."

Brown has worked for the shipyard for 24 years but is currently on medical leave for stress.

King says after 33 years of torment, she quit in December.

"I just broke down crying.  All your years of experience, what you know, is broke down to nothing, you are nothing," she said.

All she ever wanted, she says, was to retire with dignity.

The first of three cases against BAE on these claims will begin trial this month.

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