CLARKSBURG -- A Massachusetts company denies it racially discriminated against its former sole black employee when it terminated him from his work.

Coler and Colantonio also disagrees with plaintiff Ronald George Nelson Jr.'s allegations that it owes him more than $1,000 worth of wages.

Nelson originally filed a lawsuit in Harrison Circuit Court after he says Coler and Colantonio fired him from his work as a technician on a survey and engineering crew on May 16, at which time they allegedly owed him $3,720 in wages and benefits. Nelson says Coler and Colantonio only paid him $2,170 for the May 1 through May 15 pay period, but refused to reimburse him wages for his initial weeks of employment.

Nelson claims Coler and Colantonio's refusal to pay him and his termination are evidence of the company's continuous racial discrimination against him.

"During the course of Mr. Nelson's employment with Coler, Plaintiff was treated in a degrading and derogatory manner by his immediate supervisor," the suit states. "On more than one occasion, Mr. Nelson was singled out by his supervisor for unjustified criticism and asked to perform tasks which were clearly designed to personally demean, harass and embarrass Plaintiff."

In addition, Nelson claims he heard his co-workers and supervisors make derogatory racial comments on the job site.

"On at least three occasions the racial epithet, 'nigger,' was uttered at the worksite by the field coordinator, Coler's supervisor in charge of all field crews in the region," the complaint says.

In his five-count complaint, Nelson alleges Coler and Colantonio violated the West Virginia Wage Payment and Collection Act by failing to pay him within 72 hours of his termination; violated the West Virginia Human Rights Act by creating an abusive and hostile work environment; and violated public policy by terminating him for not favorably reacting to the hostile work environment. In addition, Coler and Colantonio intentionally and negligently inflicted emotional distress, according to the complaint.

But Coler and Colantonio deny Nelson's claims against it, and says Nelson should not be entitled to punitive damages because it attempted to comply with anti-discrimination laws.

"Defendant Coler and Colantonio, Inc. exercised reasonable care to prevent and promptly correct any harassing behavior, and Plaintiff unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventative or corrective opportunities provided by Coler and Colantonio, Inc. or to avoid harm otherwise," the company's response states.

Nelson seeks lost wages and benefits, punitive damages, attorney's fees and costs, pre- and post-judgment interest and other relief the court deems just.

Because Nelson will receive more than $75,000 if he wins the lawsuit and because a diversity of citizenship exists between Nelson – a West Virginia resident – and between the Massachusetts company, Coler and Colantonio removed the case to federal court.

Paul K. Reese of Warner Law Offices in Charleston will be representing Nelson.

Susan L. Deniker and Matthew B. Hansberry of Steptoe and Johnson in Clarksburg will be representing Coler and Colantonio.

The case has been assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Irene M. Keeley.

U.S. District Court case number: 1:09-cv-157

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