Lawsuit alleges the online retail giant’s Jacksonville workplace was “racially divided.”
Jacksonville-based Fanatics Retail Group Inc. faces a federal lawsuit alleging the company subjected an employee to racial discrimination, harassment and retaliatory failure to promote.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed suit Tuesday alleging the online retail giant’s Jacksonville workplace was “racially divided.”
The EEOC claims a current Jacksonville employee, Vincent Perkins, was subject to racial slurs and unfair treatment from Fanatics management.
The 12-page suit filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida provides examples of how Perkins allegedly was treated.
Fanatics issued a statement Tuesday saying the company “is committed to treating all employees fairly and takes complaints like this very seriously.”
“We deny any wrongdoing and look forward to vigorously defending these claims in court. As the company does not discuss pending litigation, we have no further comment at this time.”
According to Perkins, the Screen Room Department, where he works, “was significantly divided by race, and white employees were treated better than black employees.”
The complaint alleges, among other claims, that a Fanatics general manager “referred to black employees as monkeys or Africans” and that a human resources manager called black employees “baboon.”
It lists comments Perkins says he heard either directly or was advised of during his employment:
“Africans in Europe know their place, but not in the United States.”
“Why does he have those big Aunt Jemima lips?”
“I mean you can read? I’m not racist, but a lot of you (black) guys can’t read.”
Perkins claims he was in line for a promotion within his department, but after making complaints to the human resources department, he was told he would never receive a promotion.
“Following his charge of discrimination, Mr. Perkins was subjected to increased harassment and behavior designed to get Mr. Perkins to quit,” the suit reads.
EEOC Regional Attorney Robert Weisberg said in a statement that the use of racial slurs in the workplace and retaliating against the employee is “abhorrent.”
“When such abuse occurs, the EEOC will vigorously seek to correct the bad practices and secure an appropriate remedy for the victim,” he said.
On Tuesday, Kristen Foslid, trial attorney for the EEOC, said the agency received the complaint and immediately began investigating.
“Whenever a charge of discrimination is filed, the agency has investigators who begin to look into it,” she said. “This can include interviewing other employees and other things.”
Foslid said before a legal complaint is filed in court, the EEOC tries to work with the employer to address the issue.
“That didn’t happen in this case,” she said.
The EEOC is seeking punitive damages for Perkins, back pay and “compensation for past and future pecuniary losses resulting from the unlawful employment practices,” among other requests.
The EEOC's Miami District Office comprises the Miami, Tampa and San Juan EEOC offices. It has jurisdiction over Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The agency “advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination.”
Fanatics started as a retail sports apparel shop in the early 1990s in the Orange Park Mall.
Over the years, the company grew into a global leader in sports clothing sales, securing partnerships with the National Football League, Major League Baseball and other major league sports organizations and apparel brands.