Suisan settles racism lawsuit for $90K

HONOLULU — A Hilo-based food distribution company has agreed to pay $90,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging a Black employee was subjected to racial slurs and racist references to slavery, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said Wednesday.

According to the lawsuit, a supervisor at Suisan Company’s Hilo warehouse shouted racial slurs at the worker, who was fired after complaining to management.


A manager who investigated also used a racial epithet during a meeting with the employee, the lawsuit said. During a second meeting, the manager and another supervisor made jokes about slavery, the lawsuit said.

The commission alleged in the lawsuit filed last year in U.S. District Court in Honolulu that the man was later fired in retaliation for reporting the harassment.

In addition to the money, Suisan agreed to measures to address and prevent discrimination, the commission said, including outlining an internal complaint process and providing anti-discrimination training.

“Even though Hawaii is a racially and culturally diverse state, we continue to see race discrimination and harassment complaints filed with our agency in this region,” Anna Park, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Los Angeles District, which includes Hawaii in its jurisdiction, said in a statement. “Suisan has agreed to put in place measures to prevent and address discrimination in the workplace. Other employers should take note and review their current practices to make sure they are complying with federal law.”

Attorneys representing Suisan didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the settlement Wednesday.

According to a consent decree order filed in court, Suisan “denies all of the EEOC’s allegations of discrimination, harassment and retaliation and nothing in this Consent Decree shall be construed as an admission by Suisan of any wrongdoing or liability.”

“Retaliation is the most alleged discrimination complaint filed with the EEOC. Employees have the right to report discrimination and harassment in the workplace, and employers have an obligation to ensure they are not retaliating against employees who complain,” said EEOC’s Honolulu Local Office Director Raymond Griffin Jr.

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