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Current, former employees file class action racial discrimination suit against beverage can maker Rexam

By Andrew Thomason | Jun 4, 2014

A global packaging company whose North American headquarters is located in Cook County is facing a class action lawsuit over accusations it fosters a workplace inundated with racial discrimination.

A group of 14 plaintiffs made the allegations May 22 in a lawsuit filed in Chicago’s federal court against Rexam PLC and its subsidiaries, Rexam Beverage Can Americas Inc. and Rexam Beverage Can Co.

The plaintiffs -- Clarence Brown, Timothy Greenlee, Deborah Hobbs, Desir Martial, Madison Moon, Dylan Palmer, Craig Perry, Jamika Randle, Sammie Spencer, Charles Stacker, Brenda Taylor-Turner, David Taylor, Natasha Turner-Randle and Sharon Preston -- are all current or former black employees of Rexam.

They, the suit states, work or worked at two Rexam facilities in Illinois: a beverage can factory on West 43rd Street in Chicago or a now-closed cap can factory in Elk Grove Village.

Rexam is the No. 2 beverage can maker in the U.S. and makes billions of cans each year used for beer, soft drinks and other beverages, according to the company's website that notes it has 11,000 employees and 67 manufacturing sites in 24 countries, including 14 can plants across the U.S. It also makes plastic packaging for pharmaceuticals.

Each plaintiff’s story in the 49-page complaint has slight differences, but in general each describes a workplace where black employees were allegedly passed over for promotions and training opportunities for similarly experienced white employees.

They also claim they were subjected to different disciplinary procedures and had to endure the use of racial slurs and imagery by co-workers.

One of the 14 plaintiffs, Dylan Palmer, claims he was “denied the opportunity to become a mechanic" and "the opportunity for better pay and a better pension, while in contrast, similarly situated Caucasian co-workers were not similarly denied the mechanic position.”

It’s an allegation made by several of the other plaintiffs, as is the claim that black employees were given harder and more dangerous tasks than white employees.

Plaintiff David Taylor alleges “he was assigned more difficult and demanding, and dangerous tasks such as climbing a ladder two stories high, and putting his arm and head inside a broken machine, while it was running and moving back and forth at approximately 30 mph, for hours while in contrast, similarly situated Caucasian co-workers were not forced to do such a task.”

Rexam, the suit contends, failed to address complaints about the alleged racism regarding promotions and job assignments.

Further, the plaintiffs claim the Rexam workplace was rife with racial slurs and imagery. A noose was hung at least four times in areas accessible to black employees, and the use of racial slurs was commonplace, the suit alleges.

Complaints made by black employees regarding the slurs and imagery also went unaddressed by Rexam, according to the complaint.

In their suit, the plaintiffs requested certification of a class that would include black employees who work or worked for Rexam at its two Illinois manufacturing facilities between April 1, 2010 and now.

Plaintiffs are asking that the defendants be prohibited from engaging in discriminatory conduct and that Rexam revise any procedure where there was alleged racial inequity outlined in the suit, such as those dealing with promotions, discipline, overtime, schedules, assignments and benefits.

The suit further requests the plaintiffs and members of the proposed class be eligible for lost wages, including back pay, for failure to promote and lost benefits because of racial discrimination, as well as compensatory and punitive damages.

Rexam should also be forced to rehire anyone in the class who resigned because of the discrimination, the plaintiffs assert.

Chicago attorneys Michael Bressler of The Bressler Firm and Carol Coplan Babbitt of The Law Office of Carol Coplan Babbitt filed the suit on behalf of the plaintiffs.

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