Court summons Microsoft, Skanska, Balfour Beatty in bias suit

Dive Brief:

  • The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington issued summons last week for Microsoft, Skanska and Balfour Beatty to respond to a discrimination and whistleblower suit. The complaint alleges an African-American laborer was harassed based on his skin color and ultimately fired from the software company’s multibillion-dollar Redmond, Washington, campus renovation project.  
  • Quinte Harris alleged in the suit, originally filed in April, that his supervisor told him he didn’t like the Black Lives Matter movement, and didn’t care for Black people in general. On the same jobsite, after returning from a Safe from Hate meeting focused on inclusivity initiatives in the construction industry, Harris alleged he found a sign that read, “This is not a safe space.”
  • According to the suit, when Harris reported these incidents to his foreman for the Skanska-Balfour Beatty joint venture on the project, no action was taken to reprimand or remove the alleged perpetrators from the jobsite. After Harris turned to local news media to air his complaints, he was fired, according to court documents.

Dive Insight:

The latest court documents, filed June 23, give the companies 21 days to respond to the complaint once they are served. 

A spokesperson for the Skanska-Balfour Beatty JV denied the allegations.

“We are aware of the lawsuit filed by a craft laborer formerly employed as part of the Skanska Balfour Beatty Joint Venture (SBB),” the company said via email. “We do not believe there is any factual basis for the claims and SBB intends to vigorously defend itself and its people against the unsubstantiated allegations. SBB does not tolerate the kind of behavior described in the complaint and is committed to providing a safe, inclusive and discrimination-free workplace.”

Microsoft said in a statement that workplace discrimination and harassment are unacceptable.

“While Microsoft neither employed nor supervised Mr. Harris and his colleagues, we are working with his employer to understand what happened,” the statement read.

Racism and construction

Racism and discrimination have been a flashpoint on construction jobsites in North America since the murder of George Floyd two years ago. Construction Dive documented more than 20 incidents involving nooses and racist graffiti on jobsites that year.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently held a hearing on the pervasiveness of racism in construction, as the federal government prepares to distribute $1.2 trillion in funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Employment Act.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 6.3% of construction workers are Black, half of the rate found in the broader workforce, while 87.9% are White, compared to 77.5% of all workers.

At the EEOC hearing last month, Chair Charlotte Burrows pointed to a past discrimination suit against Skanska where workers allegedly dumped urine and feces from a port-a-potty on a Black worker.

Contacted by Construction Dive, Skanska declined to comment on Burrows’ statement. It was at least the second federal-level hearing since last fall where Skanska was called out by name for discrimination allegations, a point the company also declined to comment on.

In November, during a congressional hearing investigating discrimination in federal rail contracts, a Black contractor who is currently in litigation with Skanska alleged he was discriminated against at the Pensacola Bay Bridge project in Florida.

At that time, the company said the contractor didn’t report any issues of discrimination while working on the project and highlighted its diversity initiatives at various jobsites.

“Skanska has a strong track record supporting minority- and women-owned contracting firms in its civil projects across the country and takes immense pride in what we have achieved to provide opportunities and level the playing field for Disadvantaged Business Enterprises in our construction operations,” the company said last November. 

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