Clark Co. Latino employees sue, allege racial discrimination in workplace

Clark County

The men say they reported the racism to county supervisors, but nothing happened.

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Three Latino men who work for Clark County Public Works are accusing their employer of racial discrimination and harassment. 

Elias Peña, Isaiah Hutson, and Ray Alanis, who are represented by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the Seattle law firm Breskin, Townsend and Johnson, filed the complaint against Clark County in the U.S. District Court Tuesday. 

The lawsuit claims supervisors and employees at Clark County Public Works made racist remarks to the three men and would give preferential treatment to employees who were not Latino. 

Peña and Hutson have worked in the roads division since at least 2016, the lawsuit says. Hutson started around mid-2018. In their years on the job, the three employees said they were called derogatory names and faced violent racist threats. They said racism occurs on an almost weekly basis and that they’ve reported the behavior to supervisors and human resources, but nothing changed.

“They gave the county an opportunity to adequately investigate and address their racial discrimination complaints, however when that, when those results proved to be inadequate, our clients turned to our organization,” said Andrés Holguin-Flores, a staff attorney from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, in Los Angeles. 

The three men said roads division supervisors refer to them as the “landscaping crew,” “manual labor crew,” or “the brown crew,” and say that the men work for their “white slave master,” according to the lawsuit. 

The men also said they have been denied compensation and opportunities for additional work because of their race and have had to file grievances to obtain the same pay as employees who are not Latino and who do the same or similar work. 

Peña said when he was exposed to another Clark County employee who was diagnosed with COVID-19, he was not offered the same opportunity to quarantine that other non-Latino employees were offered. 

“I would say that it is absolutely courageous for any employee to come out and file a lawsuit that addresses a series of discrimination complain like the ones we brought in our case,” Holguin-Flores said. 

Clark County said it does not comment on any pending litigation, but said, “The county has a commitment to provide a work environment free from unlawful discrimination and harassment for its employees, the public it serves and those with whom the county conducts business.” 

Since the claims his clients are making are ongoing, Holguin-Flores said he wouldn’t be surprised if more people come forward with similar accusations. 

“We have to assume that other Latino employees have faced similar forms of discrimination in Clark County and if there are any individuals who have faced discrimination, we encourage you to make your voice heard,” he said. 

The three men said they suffer from anxiety and other emotional distress as a result of the hostility and harassment.

The lawsuit does not state specifically how much the men are asking for in damages. Holguin-Flores said his clients’ hope is that the lawsuit will encourage Clark County to take complaints about racial discrimination seriously. 

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