Black worker files discrimination suit against LNVA

By Kelly Holleran | May 13, 2012


A Beaumont man claims he was consistently discriminated against and eventually lost his job because of the color of skin.

Rodney Bushnell claims he had been working for defendant Lower Neches Valley Authority for about 40 years before he lost his job due to age and racial discrimination.

Bushnell, a black man, began working for Lower Neches Valley Authority on April 13, 1973, as a laborer. He eventually was promoted to the position of canal rider, but was forced to fight for the position after the company hired an inexperienced, white worker for the job, according to the complaint. At the time, Bushnell was the only black canal rider, the suit states.

During Bushnell's tenure as a canal rider, white farmers would repeatedly harass, him but LNVA did nothing to stop the harassment, the complaint says.

Not only would farmers harass Bushnell, but his co-workers would also intimidate him and other black workers, he claims.

"For example, Edward Polk, a white canal rider, once threatened to chain Bushnell to the back of his truck," the suit states. "This was after the widely publicized incident with James Byrd in Jasper. Bushnell reported this, management took no action, and Mr. Polk was not terminated, although he is now deceased."

In addition, white employees would repeatedly open and close gates, which would cause floods that Bushnell was forced to respond to, sometimes in the middle of the night.

"The work of a canal rider is dangerous at night, as it is outdoors in swamp-type areas where hazards like water moccasins and alligators are not easily seen," the complaint says. "This sabotage started perhaps as early as 1980 and continued until 2010. Finally, in 2010, Bushnell jokingly thanked them, because he was making overtime pay while responding to these calls. After this, these middle-of-the-night emergency calls mysteriously stopped."

During his employment, Bushnell was repeatedly threatened by his white coworkers. For instance, one of his fellow employees kicked down a door and threatened to shoot him, he claims.

Another employee had purchased a new rifle and allowed a co-worker to look through its scope as Bushnell walked into the room, according to the complaint. The employee turned the rifle on Bushnell and pointed it at him, the suit states. Employees later joked that Bushnell was lucky they did not shoot the "black buck," the complaint says. Although Bushnell complained to management about the incident, they took no action against the alleged perpetrators.

Bushnell claims he was repeatedly written up and blamed for incidents that were not his fault. In fact, his supervisor wrote him up about eight times for incidents that were not in Bushnell's control, according to the complaint.

"The incidents described herein are only a few among dozens Bushnell could describe where Bushnell was mistreated or treated differently than white employees or harassed, or where Bushnell was specifically subject to racial incidents," the suit states. "This discriminatory treatment and targeting of African Americans went unchecked, allowed a culture hostile to African-Americans generally and to Bushnell specifically to exist until his last day of employment."

On April 24, 2010, Bushnell responded to a call, but there was no water on the road when he arrived to the supposed flood call, the complaint says. When he asked what the problem was, he claims he was threatened with a gun. Bushnell called the sheriff's department for assistance, and the deputies filed a report, according to the complaint.

Following the incident, however, Bushnell lost his job for allegedly using profanity on the job, the suit states.

Bushnell claims the real reason that he lost his job was because of his skin color and because he was 60 years old and approaching retirement.

In his complaint, Bushnell alleges employment discrimination, retaliation and age discrimination against the defendants.

He is seeking back pay, compensatory damages, front pay and liquidated damages.He is also seeking economic and actual damages in excess of the minimum jurisdictional limits of Jefferson County District Court, plus pre- and post-judgment interest at the maximum rate allowed by law, attorneys' fees, costs and other relief the court deems just.

Kristen Capps of Spring and David J. Quan of the Law Office of David J. Quan in Houston will be representing him.

The case has been assigned to Judge Gary Sanderson, 60th District Court.

Case No. B192-356

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