Galveston men claim firing due to retaliation, racial discrimination

John Suayan, Galveston Bureau Apr. 29, 2009, 5:32pm

GALVESTON � Claiming they were unjustly fired because they are black and made requests for raises, two Galveston County men are suing their employer in Galveston County District Court.

In a wrongful termination lawsuit filed on April 24, cousins Shredick Otis of Texas City and Willie Smith of Dickinson claim that La Porte-based A & L Industrial Services Inc. underpaid them in contrast to their white and Hispanic co-workers.

They add the company ultimately dismissed them because they were black, using an alleged on-the-job infraction as an excuse.

"As a direct and proximate result of the defendant's conduct, the plaintiffs were paid less than they should have been over the course of their employment," the suit says. "Furthermore, both plaintiffs allege that they were terminated because of their race."

The plaintiffs worked as experienced and certified scaffold builders for the defendant in refineries in the Greater Houston area throughout 2007.

Both made close to $20 an hour.

Court papers say each man learned other workers with the same experience and qualifications were making slightly more than them and talked to their superiors about increasing their pay.

The issue was continuously raised until Oct. 5, 2007, when the defendant dismissed Oatis and Smith for leaving a helper onsite unattended in violation of company policy.

The plaintiffs claim they had been given prior permission to leave the work site.

"Smith and Oatis had left the jobsite at a foreman's approval because of a family emergency," the original petition says. "Furthermore, they left no one unattended because a foreman and a carpenter were on the jobsite with the helper."

According to the suit, A & L fired Oatis and Smith in retaliation for the plaintiffs' grievances.

Represented by attorney Eric W. Newell of Brent Coon and Associates, the men seek restitution for back pay, lost earnings, and compensatory damages.

They also demand a jury trial.

Galveston County 56th District Court Judge Lonnie Cox is presiding over the case.

Case No. 09CV0610

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