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TVA lawsuit claims racism, more

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By Damon Lawrence

A Knoxville man claims he was subjected to racial bullying and sexual harassment while working as a laborer at TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant. Corey Hedrick’s allegations are recited in a federal lawsuit, which accuses TVA of violating the Civil Rights Act and the Tennessee Human Rights Act.  

“Mr. Hedrick was the only African-American working the de-water side of the Kingston Fossil project,” the lawsuit said. “Almost immediately upon his employment, he was subjected to an atmosphere of discrimination based on his race. He was also subjected to sexual harassment.”

The lawsuit, which was filed earlier this month, names the TVA Board of Directors as the defendant.   
Hedrick, according to the lawsuit, worked for a company called G.UB.MK Constructors that had a contract with TVA.

“Mr. Hedrick performed work under this contract as a ‘staff augmented’ personnel at TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant,” the lawsuit said. “In this arrangement, TVA also had control over the manner and means of Mr. Hedrick’s duties.”
Hedrick claims he was racially bullied by a TVA Teamster foreman named Jimmy “Truckie” Thomas. The following incidents are alleged in the lawsuit:
*When Mr. Hedrick asked to borrow Truckie’s pen and whether this was a Cross pen, Truckie responded in front of coworkers that it was not and that the only cross he had was one to burn in Mr. Hedrick’s yard;
*In front of Mr. Hedrick and his coworkers, Truckie asked what “PONTIAC” stands for then said, “poor old nigger thought it was a Cadillac;”
*Truckie said in front of Mr. Hedrick and his coworkers that he was going to make up T-shirts and bumper stickers that said “don’t re-nig 2011”, referring to not reelecting an African-American President.
*Truckie said in front of Mr. Hedrick and his coworkers that President Obama needed to end up like Martin Luther King, that is, assassinated;
*Truckie referred to the workers of Middle Eastern descent as “sand niggers;”
*Truckie told Mr. Hedrick that he needed to smile so he could be seen in the early morning hours.

Hedrick claims he was racially bullied by other coworkers, including one known as Elvis.

“Elvis called Mr. Hedrick ‘cracker’ on a daily basis,” the lawsuit said. “This same person told Mr. Hedrick he called him this because he ‘can’t call him the n-word.’”

Hedrick claims he was subjected to sexually inappropriate comments by a coworker named Melissa  'Missy' Cupp.

“On an almost daily basis, in Mr. Hedrick’s presence, Missy told male coworkers to ‘suck my ****,” the lawsuit said. “She also expressed to the males on the job that because of her family connections she was essentially untouchable, could say whatever she wanted without repercussion and could even take their jobs away.”

Hedrick also claims the workers would engage in something called  'grab games.'

“There was a frequently played game on site called ‘grab games’ wherein the workers on site grabbed one another’s crotch or gouged each other,” the lawsuit said. “Mr. Hedrick told other employees on numerous occasions that he would not play this game because it was inappropriate and extremely offensive.”  

Hedrick claims he reported the discriminatory behavior to a labor foreman named Johnny Hall, and was told TVA had a “no drama” policy.

“Mr. Hall made it clear that TVA and GUBMK would not tolerate employees even reporting misconduct or discrimination or they themselves lose their jobs for creating ‘drama,’” the lawsuit said.

Hedrick, according to the lawsuit, initiated the TVA Equal Employment Opportunity counseling process on Sept. 26, 2011. He claims he was laid off three days later in retaliation.

“When Mr. Hedrick sought to protect himself or to seek redress for the hostile work environment, GUBMK and TVA retaliated against Mr. Hedrick by laying him off or ensuring that he was laid off,” the lawsuit said.

Hedrick, whose address is listed as 562 Murray Drive, Knoxville, is seeking reinstatement to his job with all back pay and compensatory damages for pain, suffering and emotional distress. He’s also seeking punitive damages and attorney fees.

TVA has yet to file an answer to the lawsuit.

“TVA is just now learning of the lawsuit and can’t comment on the specific allegations,” spokesman Travis Brickey said. “However, TVA does not tolerate discrimination and racial comments and any form of intimidation goes against our culture, core values and our code of ethics.”

Hedrick makes the same allegations in a federal lawsuit he filed against G.UB.MK last October. According to court records, G.UB.MK is a joint venture between URS Corporation, Williams Plant Services LLC and Worley Parsons Group Inc. All three have filed motions asking that Hedrick’s lawsuit be dismissed because of a bankruptcy case he filed in January 2012.

“Plaintiff did not disclose any claims alleged in this case during the pendency of his bankruptcy case and that case is now closed,” URS said in its motion. “Plaintiff’s alleged claims against URS were not properly scheduled prior to the close of his bankruptcy case and, therefore, plaintiff has lost the right to bring this action against URS in his own name.”

The motions to dismiss filed by Williams Plant Services LLC and Worley Parsons Group Inc. said the same thing.