CHARLESTON – PAR Electrical Contractors subjected black employee Richard Bevelle to racial hostility, the state Supreme Court of Appeals has ruled.
In a June 3 opinion, the Justices upheld decisions of the state Human Rights Commission and Kanawha Circuit Judge Paul Zakaib in Bevelle's favor.
Their unsigned opinion rejected PAR's claims that he endured only a single instance of hostility and that it took swift and decisive action in response.
"The record below indicates that the only swift and decisive action taken by appellant PAR was to transfer appellee Bevelle from a job that he had performed well to a much more dangerous worksite," they wrote.
In 2005, Bevelle loaded helicopters with parts as PAR built giant towers for a high voltage electrical transmission line.
In conversation at a landing site, PAR foreman Kevin Tabor told Bevelle, "If I was your boss, I would fire you for not joining the KKK."
Bevelle's supervisor, Don Sines, said, "He can't join the KKK. He's already a member, probably, of the NAACP."
Bevelle said, "I don't play that," and walked away a short distance.
Tabor and Sines kept talking, and Bevelle heard the N-word over and over.
Tabor approached Bevelle and said he misunderstood. He said there were all kinds of them and there were white ones too.
Bevelle said, "No, there's not." He told Tabor he didn't know what the word meant.
Tabor said a white person who walked around on drugs was one to him.
Bevelle said, "I don't play that."
Tabor said he wouldn't classify Bevelle as one because he worked for a living.
Bevelle stared at him for a moment, turned and got into his truck.
Next morning, Bevelle reported the conversation to safety manager Gary Graham.
As Bevelle headed for his truck, Sines stopped him and assigned him to load tools, nuts and bolts into bags and hoist the bags to workers on towers 150 to 200 feet high.
The job also required picking up whatever workers dropped from the towers.
Above him, Bevelle saw workers who lived near Tabor and traveled with him.
He knew that seven pound tools and six inch bolts might fall from the towers.
At the next safety meeting, with Bevelle the only black person in the room, about 100 workers heard a warning that PAR would not tolerate racial comments.
No one had to guess who complained, and Bevelle chose to quit his job.
He filed a human rights complaint, alleging discrimination and retaliation.
At a hearing, the owner of the helicopters praised him because his scheduling reduced loading time and spared wear and tear on the engines.
Human rights commissioners found that PAR permitted a hostile or abusive environment and failed to promptly address discrimination toward Bevelle.
Zakaib affirmed the decision last year, and the Supreme Court affirmed him.
The Justices wrote that "racially based comments were repeated and deliberate, and made without provocation or invitation by the appellee."
They wrote that supervisors uttered the comments about and toward a subordinate.
"There was no evidence in the record that foreman Tabor or supervisor Sines were ever sanctioned in any way for their conduct," they wrote.
Kathryn Reed Bayless of Princeton represented Bevelle.
Eric Iskra and Richard Wallace, both of Spilman Thomas and Battle in Charleston, represented PAR.