Ex-employee claims racial taunting in suit against air firm
A former Port City Air Inc. employee claims he was suspended and then fired for complaining about racial taunts — including a noose hanging from the ceiling in his office — according to a suit moved to U.S. District Court in Concord last week.
George Wilson, a Dover resident who was the only black employee to work at the private jet firm at Pease International Tradeport in Portsmouth, sued his former company, its president, Robert Jesurum, CEO Ned Denney and Adam Clark, Wilson’s former subordinate, who was allegedly involved in the noose incident and taunted him about it afterward.
But Port City claims that it suspended and fired Clark as soon as it discovered what happened, and that the disciplinary actions against Wilson were for job performance issues and had nothing to do with his race or his complaints.
“He didn’t report the incident at first. It was management that acted, and now he is using this incident to be a cause célèbre,” said Port City’s attorney, Paul McEachern.
McEachern also represents Denney and Jesurum. Calls to Clark’s East Kingston residence were not returned by NHBR deadline.
The lawsuit was originally filed by Dover attorney Matthew Broadhead on March 6 in Strafford County Superior Court and was then moved to federal court on March 22:
According to the complaints, Wilson — hired as a line service technician in January 2008 and promoted to supervisor in June 2010 — said he was subjected to racial epithets at work, particularly by Clark, a line technician he supervised, who allegedly referred to him as a “black bastard,” “n—-r,” and “boy” to his face and to other employees, starting in August 2011.
But, according to Port City, that wasn’t what was first reported. The company said that Wilson only told him he was called boy, but it was “bantering” and in return Wilson called Clark “fat boy.”
What made Wilson “sick to his stomach” was when, on Nov. 8, 2011, he found the thick ropes used to tie down aircraft to the tarmac tied into a noose hanging “menacingly” from the ceiling in the office and a similar noose stuffed in his mailbox.
The nooses were allegedly made and arranged by Clark and another employee, named in the suit, but not as a defendant. However, the complaint only names Clark for making repeated references to the incident afterwards.
“Stop talking like that to me or I’ll get the noose,” Clark allegedly told Wilson after being asked to do something.
In its response, Port City said that supervisors were told that Wilson told company officials he had originally laughed about the noose in his mailbox, along with the other employees, but said that he didn’t think that hanging it from the ceiling was funny.
Clark also allegedly teamed up with Wilson’s supervisor, who allegedly called Wilson “lazy” in a racially charged manner in front of other employees, contributing to bad work reviews after November and through to March 2012 and percolating up to CEO Denney, who told him that “the guys tell me you’re not pulling your weight.”
Wilson complained to the marketing director shortly before Christmas 2011, and after a January 2012 meeting with Denney and Jesurum, Clark and the other employee allegedly involved in the noose incident were suspended.
Clark was later fired, as was Wilson’s supervisor, but a letter signed by Jesurum describing the racial incident focused the attention on Wilson as the only African-American employee. Wilson said that afterwards he felt “targeted and/or disciplined for minor mistakes” and was demoted to line technician on March 16, 2012. Four days later, he filed a discrimination and retaliation complaint with New Hampshire Commission for Human Rights and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
In its response, Port City said that Wilson first reported the incident the first week in January to a purchasing manager, who encouraged Wilson to report it Jesurum. When Wilson didn’t, the purchasing manager did, on Jan. 11, and only then did Wilson meet with Denney and Jesurum. Jesurum offered to fire Clark, but Wilson never made it clear what he wanted, and repeatedly asked that the other person involved in the noose incident be able to keep his job.
Port City also denied Wilson’s account of being demoted, saying that it happened because he left his job without clocking out, which the company said was an ongoing problem. Wilson responded that this is a common practice that usually does not result in discipline.
On March 30, two days after Wilson filed the complaints, Clark’s replacement as supervisor allegedly invited Wilson to the premises, and for the next week asked that Clark be reinstated. After Wilson complained, he was suspended on April 6, 2012, and required to complete anger management counseling in order to return to work.
On June 6, Port City fired Wilson for failing to obtain U.S. Customs clearance for handling international flights. Wilson calls this a “pretext,” since he never was asked to get such clearance before.
According to Port City, Wilson was the only technician without Homeland Security clearance, and it was a necessary job requirement. The company said it had offered him two days off and to rent a car so he could obtain it. — BOB SANDERS/NEW HAMPSHIRE BUSINESS REVIEW