Hanford contractor says it addresses harassment

RICHLAND — Bechtel National has effective, proven programs to address behaviors that violate policies to prevent harassment, discrimination or retaliation, according to the Hanford contractor.

It has not filed a response in Eastern Washington District Federal Court to a racial harrasment lawsuit filed by a former employee Linda Mims-Johnson, but has said that she was not fired for any reason related to complaints that she made.

Mims-Johnson, a black woman, said in court documents that she was assigned as a laborer to regularly clean restrooms with racial graffiti at the Hanford vitrification plant being built by Bechtel until shortly before she was fired in April 2010 after repeated complaints.

Five years earlier, an investigation ordered by the Department of Energy found concerns about sexual and racial discrimination or harassment linked to five of 120 foremen and general foremen. Among steps Bechtel National said it would implement then was blacking out offensive graffiti in portable restrooms more frequently.

When Mims-Johnson was assigned to clean certain restrooms in March 2009, she found the men's restrooms in an intentionally disgusting and filthy state, she said in court documents.

She believed some of the graffiti was directed toward her, including a drawing of a black man hanging from a noose, a reference to the KKK, the initials SS, statements referring to fried chicken and watermelon, and sexually explicit pictures of African Americans. Some of the graffiti was written with excrement, she said.

Mims-Johnson said in court documents that she repeatedly made complaints to her supervisor, who told her to spray offensive graffiti with black paint. When a restroom became almost covered in black paint, workers started bringing in white markers to continue writing racial grafitti on the walls, she said in court documents.

She also documented the conditions in daily cards turned in to supervisors, she said. When she eventually sent a letter to Bechtel National reporting violation of its anti-harassment policy, she was transferred to another crew with a supervisor she previously had filed a grievance against and then was fired, according to the court documents.

According to Bechtel, as soon as Mims-Johnson made a complaint to the Employee Concerns Program -- which she previously had done on another issue -- she no longer was assigned to the restroom with the offensive graffiti. The change was made within days, and the complaints did not go on for a year or more as the lawsuit claims, said Bechtel spokeswoman Suzanne Heaston.

Only one restroom had the graffiti, Heaston said. She also pointed out that laborers -- Mims-Johnson's job -- are assigned to graffiti abatement. Mims-Johnson was terminated because of Bechtel's zero tolerance for threats, not because of anything related to the graffiti problem, Heaston said.

Bechtel's policy to prevent harassment and discrimination is well communicated and employee surveys show that workers understand the policies and know how to use them, she said.

* Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricity herald.com; more Hanford news at hanfordnews.com.