America’s largest independent retailer of photographic equipment is being sued by the feds for racial and gender discrimination so bad it even allegedly forces minorities to use separate bathrooms.
The Department of Labor slapped B&H Photo Video with a civil lawsuit last week, detailing 15 alleged counts of racial and gender discrimination. The suit comes in addition to a fine from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and a series of damning testimonies from B&H’s recently unionized workers.
While most customers only ever see the B&H’s two-floor Manhattan store, the company leads a considerably larger operation out of its warehouse spaces below the store and two in Brooklyn. There, employees say Hispanic workers were employed to do most of the manual labor, while white employees were promoted or hired to higher positions.
“The facility’s workforce is divided along racial lines, with management, supervisory, and mid-level positions filled predominantly by white men,” the Department of Labor wrote in its suit.
This federal lawsuit is one half of B&H’s current legal troubles. In a protracted battle for union status, members the company’s Hispanic staff say B&H used intimidation tactics, even firing the entire cleaning department when workers attempted collective bargaining.
Rosanna Rodriguez, a spokesperson for pro-labor group the Laundry Workers Center, says B&H dismissed all seven of its cleaning workers after they asked for increased wages last month.
“Why are you going to fire people who have been working for you for 15 years and hire new workers? That’s what they’re doing right now,” Rodriguez told The Daily Beast. “It’s clear intimidation and retaliation against workers.”
Reached by phone, B&H spokesperson Henry Posner denied that the firings had been in retaliation for the workers’ union effort.
But the timing of mass firing is suspicious, Rodriguez says. B&H dismissed the entire cleaning staff the same day as workers in the Manhattan warehouse successfully voted to form their own union.
“They expressed an interest to increase their salary, to be treated with more respect, and to join the union,” Rodriguez said. “These are people with seniority of 14, 15, 16 years working for B&H. It’s no coincidence that the same day the workers won their election, B&H decided to eliminate the [cleaning] department and fire everyone.”
The fired workers also accused B&H of hostile treatment, one in a series of allegations that depict a company divided along racial lines.
This segregated workforce was in full force in the B&H’s Brooklyn Navy Yard warehouse where, according to the Department of Labor, the company hired approximately 100 “Hispanic individuals,” and not a single black or Asian worker. B&H did not hire any women, the suit alleges—and even if they had been hired, women would have found an unfriendly work environment. The warehouse lacked women’s bathrooms and changing rooms, the Labor Department said.
B&H’s bathroom woes also extended to male workers.
“The offensive conditions pervaded the workplace where Hispanic warehouse workers had unequal access to basic hygienic restroom facilities,” the lawsuit reads. “Hispanic workers had no option but to use unsanitary and often inoperable restrooms, which were separate and apart from superior restrooms used by white warehouse workers.”
B&H has categorically denied any bathroom-related discrimination.
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SOURCE: The Daily Beast – Kelly Weil