Several current and former Molson Coors employees and others familiar with the iconic Milwaukee brewery told the press that the company has a history of rampant racism – assertions that could cast some light on the motives behind a mass shooting that killed six workers, including the gunman.
The alleged culture of racism within the company manifested in several ways, and workers told the Washington Post. Among them was a 2015 incident in which someone in the company duct-taped a noose on the locker of Anthony Ferrill, the shooter.
Mr. Ferrill, a 17-year employee of Molson Coors and its predecessor MillerCoors, returned to work on Feb. 26 reportedly after being terminated and opened fire on others at the sprawling plant’s Building 4. He shot five workers to death before killing himself.
Molson Coors said Mr. Ferrill was not at work on the day another worker reported the noose, but the incident resulted in a company-wide meeting led by human resources. The company said it offered Mr. Ferrill security and other services, but it’s not clear whether he used them.
Rampant bullying and abuse
The noose incident wasn’t the first time a noose has been affixed to the locker of a black employee at the company, according to the Washington Post. A similar incident occurred in 2012. Both noose incidents prompted an investigation, but the offenders were never found.
Workers also spoke of “constant harassment. The constant nitpicking. The constant racial things that were done and allowed to be done because our complaints fell on deaf ears,” according to the Washington Post.
Other allegations included a swastika carved into the bathroom wall, the “N” word graffitied and hurled at black workers, racist cartoons depicting monkeys and blackface characters eating watermelon.
One former Molson Coors employee told the Post that the constant stress and crippling anxiety of being the target of jokes, racial slurs, harassment, and threats took a toll on his health and made him contemplate suicide. Quitting his job was the only way out of the hostile environment.
Mr. Ferrill worked as an electrician for the company for more than 17 years. Molson Coors electricians are unionized and make $32 an hour. The good pay may be the reason why Mr. Ferrill lasted so long at the company despite the abuse.
“The culture of that company was very, very toxic,” one former employee who lost his job in 2018 told the Washington Post. “If I wasn’t making $30 an hour, I wouldn’t be working at a job like that.”
Has Molson Coors been too tolerant of intolerance?
Adam Collins, the chief communications and corporate affairs officer at Molson Coors, told the Post that the company investigates “every single complaint” of intolerance or harassment. He also indicated that the company’s response to such complaints may not have been strong enough.
He said the company has terminated people for “unacceptable” behavior and has tried to foster an atmosphere of “diversity and inclusion” in the brewery ad companywide.
“But there’s no two ways about it. We have more work to do,” Mr. Collins told the Washington Post. “Fostering an inclusive and welcoming workplace is something every organization has to work towards each day, and we aren’t going to shy away from our responsibility to take a deep look at our own culture following this event.”
Disagreement about motives
Although Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morale told news radio station WTMJ that he doesn’t believe that racism was a factor in the shooting, others see a clear connection.
State Sen. Lena Taylor, who is currently running for mayor of Milwaukee, told the Washington Post that she has spoken to employees since the Feb. 26 shooting and acknowledged the “racially toxic environment” at the Molson Coors brewery.
“Based on what the colleagues have told me, [Ferrill] had to deal with a lot,” Sen. Taylor told the Post. “So do I believe it was a contributing factor? Yes, there’s no question I believe the racial harassment was a contributing factor. I don’t see how it would not be.”
Employment law is a complex practice covering the rights, obligations, and responsibilities of an employer and its employees. Employers are also bound to federal and state labor laws and regulations that govern workplace safety and serve to protect the health and well-being of workers. However, employees may find themselves working under intolerable conditions for other reasons. Discrimination because of race, age, disability, sex, and other parts of a person’s personal identity is often the subject of hostile workplace claims. Sexual harassment and other forms of aggression and intimidation on the job also make for a hostile workplace.
Workers are often afraid to report problems or complain out of fear of losing their job or otherwise being retaliated against. Sometimes they feel corporate culture supports the climate of abuse and that those in charge will just turn a blind eye. Attorneys who handle claims in the area of employment law can help a worker navigate this complicated situation. For more information about this type of claim, contact Beasley Allen lawyers Larry Golston, Leon Hampton, or Lauren Miles.