Contractor for Duke Energy sued for discrimination

by Amy Kingsley

In August 2002, Fluor Enterprises hired Terry White, who is part Cherokee, as an ironworker for a construction project at Duke Energy’s Belews Creek power plant in Stokes County. White was working as a fitter when he and a handful of other workers – all of them American Indian – noticed that the foremen seemed to exclude them from daily meetings.

“We’d stand there,” he said. “But we were always pushed to the back.”

Before long White and his coworkers detected more overt racism in the workplace beyond their exclusion from regular meetings. He said bathroom stalls were scrawled with racial epithets and he heard his boss mutter comments about black and American Indian employees. His foreman once made a crack to White about being interbred, he said. All of those things, White said, contributed to an uncomfortable work environment, especially for the American Indians on the jobsite.

Still, he kept working. He did so well getting his crew to complete punch lists, usually a list of construction goals for the day, that his boss promised him a shot at general foreman.

“They never gave me the chance to take the test,” White said.

White figured he had been passed over for promotion because of his race. That revelation convinced him to join some of his fellow American Indian employees in a civil discrimination lawsuit against the contractor, Fluor Enterprises.

The lawsuit has been dragging through the civil court system since 2002, White said. It is still far from resolution. Geraldine Sumter, the attorney for the plaintiffs, filed the complaint in June of last year in Winston-Salem’s federal court. The judge set a jury trial for July 2007 if the parties can’t work out their differences in mandatory mediation.

None of the attorneys involved in the case returned phone calls. Although Jimmy Gibson Jr., Jimmy Gibson Sr., Howard H. Pierce, Randy Clark and Ertle Moore joined White in the complaint, none of them could be located.

In a response to the complaint, lawyers for Fluor Enterprises denied all the allegations of racial discrimination. They also noted that several of the plaintiffs, who are Lumbee Indians, do not belong to a federally recognized tribe.

Until next July, the conflict will continue to be played out on paper and in closed conferences. White is looking forward to the jury trial scheduled for next year.

“Nobody should treat people like that,” he said. “It just isn’t right.”

– Amy Kingsley