Group claims workers were required to install defective or bug-infested equipment into residents’ homes
By Corilyn Shropshire Tribune staff reporter
A federal lawsuit filed Monday in Chicago accused Comcast Corp. of discriminating against the African-American employees of its South Side facility and its own customers by requiring workers to install defective or bug-infested equipment into residents’ homes.
Eleven current and former workers in Comcast Corp.’s South Side facility are seeking class action status claiming that since at least 2005, the media company “has engaged in an ongoing pattern of race discrimination against African American employees” at its South Side location, according to the complaint, filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
The group includes 10 current employees and one former worker who was fired in 2009. The plaintiffs on average, have worked for Comcast for 15 years, the lawsuit says.
The employees — technicians, who are responsible for installing and repairing cable equipment in customers’ homes and for diagnosing and repairing large-scale cable outages — claim the South Side facility where they are based is a “hostile” work environment where they were called derogatory names including “ghetto techs” or “lazy techs.”
The plaintiffs also claim that the South Side operation, located at 721 E. 112th St., was infested with roaches and rats, and until it was renovated in 2009, had a leaky roof and was not temperature controlled.
A Comcast spokesperson denied the allegations.
“Comcast adamantly denies the allegations and will vigorously defend itself in court,” said company spokeswoman Angelynne Amores. “As this relates to pending litigation, we cannot comment any further,” she wrote in an email.
The Comcast employees claimed that they would find roaches crawling in and out of cable equipment and that Comcast required them to install the equipment regardless of whether it was defective, roach-infested or both, in the homes of their predominantly African-American customers.
When the technicians complained about the faulty equipment, they said management was dismissive, including telling them that the customer would be “evicted in a few months” or that “South Side customers are more likely to steal equipment or not pay their bills.”
By contrast, the suit alleges that facilities that are not staffed primarily by African Americans and do not have a primarily African American customer base “are provided with the necessary tools and new customer equipment.”
The employees also alleged that Comcast failed to provide then with equal pay, fair evaluations and opportunities for advancement as their North Side or suburban-based counterparts.
“The mistreatment of the black customers contributed to the hostile environment for Comcast’s African American employees,” said Noelle Brennan, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs. The bad equipment would result in longer service outages and service calls which negatively impacted the employees’ evaluations, Brennan added, “which would negatively impact their pay and promotional opportunities,” she said.
The plaintiffs are seeking lost wages and benefits and are also seeking compensatory and punitive damages that could total $300,000 per person, the total amount allowed by law.
Brennan said she has set up a Web site, www.comcastdiscrimination.com where customers can register their experiences and seek legal advice. The customers however, are not eligible to join the lawsuit.