DES MOINES, Iowa—A former tire inspector at Bridgestone/Firestone´s Des Moines plant has won $1.3 million from United Steelworkers Local 310 for alleged racial harassment.
The union local denied the accusation and said it will appeal.
Robert Eliserio, now a truck driver, worked for BFS in Des Moines from 1988 to 2002. During that time, he claimed in his lawsuit, he was subjected to names like "Taco Bob" and "Burrito Bob."
The harassment only increased, with the union local´s blessing, after Eliserio violated the local´s "no-ratting" policy by complaining to plant management, Eliserio said, and that bullying forced him to leave the company. He said that someone wrote "Rateserio" and other epithets on the men´s room wall in three-foot letters. The union, however, claimed it discouraged the graffiti and had it washed off the walls.
Thomas Newkirk, one of Eliserio´s attorneys, said a receipt showing that the union local bought 200 "No Rat" stickers for Eliserio´s co-workers to wear proved to the jury that Local 310 was harassing him.
In its Nov. 23 decision, the jury did not find that Eliserio was a victim of union retaliation, but did determine that the union approved and instigated the harassment. The $1.3 million award included $440,000 in punitive damages.
"I can only guess why the jury ruled that way," Newkirk said.
There´s also no way to tell how many other Des Moines workers suffered harassment similar to Eliserio´s, according to Newkirk. "The union had a very strict no-ratting policy—don´t tell the company about anything, including civil rights issues—so we have no idea if anyone else at the plant suffered the same treatment," he said.
Mark Bay, an attorney for Local 310, said he and his colleagues soon will file post-trial motions to overturn the judgment. If these don´t work, he said the union will appeal to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.
It is unclear whether the USW International union will help Local 310 pay the $1.3 million if it loses its appeals, according to Bay.
"The international union was a party in the case, but it was dismissed, so it has no legal liability or responsibility for this judgment," he said.
BFS also was an original defendant in the suit, but resolved the case with Eliserio and was dropped, according to Newkirk.