Monday, March 28, 2005

Racially Motivated Workplace Violence

Lockheed Martin faces a federal discrimination lawsuit charging that a workplace killer targeted African American workers.

In 2003, Lockheed worker Doug Williams left a diversity training class at a Mississippi plant that makes airplane components, and returned with a 12-gauge shotgun and a semiautomatic rifle. He killed 5 co-workers and wounded 8, then killed himself.

What makes this case different from many other workplace violence incidents? Race discrimination.

The lawsuit claims that Lockheed knew that Williams had created a hostile work environment against African American employees. It charges that the company knew of Williams’ threats to kill Black workers and failed to do anything.

The US EEOC, the federal agency that enforces the federal anti-discrimination laws, concluded that Williams had created a “racially charged” atmosphere. The EEOC determined that Lockheed’s reaction to the threats against African American employees was “inadequate and permitted the racially charged atmosphere to grow in intensity, culminating in the shooting of 14 individuals."

Lockheed Martin points out that white employees were also injured and killed and denies knowledge of previous threats by the killer. Some of the workers say that Lockheed could have averted this disaster by taking preventative measures.

2. Another Racial Workplace Violence Case - In another case earlier this year, the EEOC sued Consolidated Freightways and obtained $2.75 million on behalf of 12 African American employees, after white workers physically assaulted them at work.
3. Statistics - Homicides are among the top three causes of workplace fatalities for all workers, although overall numbers of these instances have actually decreased over the past 5 years, according to the Department of Labor.
4. Legal Claims - In addition to violence based on race, workplace killings also arise from other sources, such as domestic violence that spills into the workplace and violent robberies. In those cases, usually the legal claims are limited to fines under the Occupational Safety and Health Act and recovery under state law claims, such as negligent hiring and retention.
In cases involving racially motivated violence, federal anti-discrimination laws come into play and provide remedies for injured individuals.
5. Steps for Employers

Prevent, Investigate, and Correct


1) Policies and procedures – proactively develop policies and procedures for threats and actual violence (specific steps available at; train employees on personal safety and security

2) Monitor – take all threats seriously and maintain open communications with employees;

Investigate: Immediately assign trained investigator when threats arise

Correct: Take appropriate action, by enhancing workplace safety and dealing appropriately with troubled employees

6. Steps for Workers

Prevent, Report


Learn how to recognize, avoid, or diffuse potentially violent situations by attending personal safety training programs.

Avoid traveling alone into unfamiliar locations or situations whenever possible.


Immediately alert supervisors to any concerns about safety or security and report all incidents in writing.

7. Additional Resources

Ryan Law Firm - (Book: “Employment Law: An Essential Guide for Colorado Employers”).

OSHA Workplace Violence Fact Sheet,

OSHA - Workplace Violence: Possible Solutions,

(c) The Ryan Law Firm, LLC 2005. All rights reserved.