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Caltech Responds to Black Worker’s Claim He Resigned Due To Racial Harassment

Published on Tuesday, April 20, 2021 | 3:12 pm

Caltech will “vigorously defend” itself in a lawsuit brought by a Black former worker who sued the institute, alleging he was forced to resign in 2020 due to racial harassment by co-workers and because his employer denied him accommodations for a back injury, according to a university statement released Tuesday.

The allegations in James Garmon’s Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit, filed Monday, include racial discrimination and harassment, disability discrimination, failure to provide reasonable accommodations, whistleblower retaliation, constructive termination and both intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

Garmon seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

“Caltech does not tolerate any act of unlawful harassment, discrimination or retaliation,” the Caltech statement read. “The Institute is committed to fostering an inclusive, diverse, equitable and accessible environment where all members of the community have the opportunity to realize their full potential. We will vigorously defend the institute’s case in this matter.”

Garmon was hired in April 2013 as an assistant lead steward and was later promoted to lead steward, the suit states. From the start, Caltech staff members “engaged in discriminatory and hostile behavior based on Mr. Garmon’s race,” creating what he believed was a “hostile, intimidating, and/or abusive work environment,” according to the complaint.

About five non-Black Caltech workers called Garmon such racially charged names as the “N-word,” “negro,” “monkey” and “black bean,” all with the “full knowledge of Caltech’s upper management,” according to the suit.

“Caltech employees used racial epithets towards Mr. Garmon openly in the workplace and often in the presence of Mr. Garmon’s supervisors, who took no action to stop such harassment,” the suit alleges.

Garmon was given unwarranted verbal warnings regarding his work from his boss, but non-Black employees were not similarly criticized for their substandard performances, the suit states. As a result, Garmon was denied employment bonuses and salary increases, according to the suit.

In July 2019, Garmon heard one co-worker use the “N-word” in reference to the plaintiff while talking with another employee, the suit states. Although an investigation took place and the employee was found to have in fact used the racial term, no probe was done when Garmon complained that another of his supervisors had also used the offensive term, the suit states.

When Garmon developed severe back pain he allegedly was not granted his request to avoid lifting heavy items on the job. Garmon’s discomfort became so severe he was forced to take medical leave in February 2020, the suit states.

The combination of Garmon’s injury, Caltech’s alleged refusal to allow him to avoid lifting heavy items and the stress he suffered from racial harassment caused him to resign Feb. 5, the suit states.

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