Lowe’s, the well-known home improvement retailer, is up against a lawsuit from Michael Jones, a former African American executive who claims that he was fired on racist grounds. Higher-ups at the retail conglomerate reject the complaint outright calling it “unfounded and irresponsible.” Jones hopes to win $12.5 million in damages, including severance, lost earnings and other non-economic damages such as “humiliation and emotional harm.” All of this comes at a time of major layoffs in the company to the tune of 2,400 people nationwide.
The complaint filed by Jones and his lawyer, Luke Largess, alleges that the company culture at the headquarters in North Carolina is questionable to say the least. Jones claims that he was told to stop “sticking his nose where it didn’t belong.” Additionally, he discovered that a photo of an interracial couple had been purposefully ruined by employees at the headquarters. All of this strengthens the claim that his termination was racially motivated.
Furthermore, the complaint suggests that Jones helped the company in quantifiable ways. Specifically, he claims that he pushed for a shift in the sales department toward professional customers, a major source of revenue that they had been missing for some time.
It should also be noted that Jones received high ratings from a third-party source. This is important because Jones was in the running to replace Robert Niblock as CEO. The filed complaint suggests that the other executive being considered for the promotion was given lower ratings by the same third-party assessments. However, in Jones’ view, nepotism won out.
In his complaint, Jones points out that this is not an isolated incident and in fact there have been many more racially motivated firings here in the states and abroad in Bangalore, India.
The Bigger Picture
If the allegations are true, this lawsuit further illuminates the ubiquity of racism along class lines. African Americans suffer disproportionately at the hands of the powerful, whether we’re talking about Michael Brown and Treyvon Martin or Michael Jones and Henry Louis Gates Jr. who was accosted by the police for “burglarizing” his own home. Lawsuits like these help keep the powerful in check. They send a message that you can’t take away someone’s livelihood merely because of the color of their skin, for if you do, there will be consequences.
Of course, Jones’ battle has just begun. He and Largess will need to gather a good deal of evidence to show that he was an asset to the company and that his termination did indeed cause “humiliation and emotional harm.” They will need to contest the claims of Lowe’s executives who say that Jones made requests for an outlandish severance package and that he “increasingly became disengaged from Lowe’s in numerous ways.”