SACRAMENTO (CBS/AP) -- A federal jury on Wednesday awarded nearly $15 million to 11 warehouse workers who accused a NorCal trucking company of segregating workers by race, calling people "stupid Africans" and punishing those who complained.
Attorney Lynn Feiger, who was among those representing the workers, said the verdict against Sacramento-based Matheson Trucking and Matheson Flight Extenders Inc. includes $13 million in punitive damages. The judgment also includes $318,000 in back pay for employees who were fired because they are black, and another $650,000 for emotional distress. Matheson also was ordered to pay the workers' legal costs.
The company transports mail for the U.S. Postal Service and private vendors, including UPS Inc. and FedEx Corp.
According to the lawsuit, black employees worked on one side of the Denver-area warehouse and whites worked on the other side. White supervisors and staff were accused of using racial epithets and calling employees "lazy, stupid Africans."
Ten of the plaintiffs were black -- many were from the African country of Mali -- and one plaintiff was a white whistleblower who said he was fired for challenging the company's practices.
Matheson attorney Stacey Campbell said the company "prides itself on hiring and employing a highly diverse workforce consisting of men and women of different races and cultures." She said Matheson would appeal the jury's decision.
According to the lawsuit, which was filed in 2010, the workers were discriminated against in all phases of employment, including hiring, termination, conditions of employment, promotion, vacation pay, furlough, discipline, work shifts, benefits and wages.
For example, all employees liked working holidays because they would get double pay. But supervisors gave the shifts only to white employees, including those with less seniority than their black counterparts.
"I thought I was back South again with the same old racist attitudes," said plaintiff Ernie Duke, who was raised in Missouri.
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