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Lawsuit: Worker at Meijer warehouse told to 'grow a pair' when he complained of racial harassment

Lauretta and James Henry
Posted at 12:20 PM, Jan 20, 2022

DELTA TOWNSHIP, Mich. — The wife of a man who worked at the Meijer distribution center in Delta Township is suing the company in federal court on behalf of her late husband, alleging that he was the victim of ongoing racial harassment.

Lauretta Henry said in a complaint filed in July that James Henry was racially harassed by men assigned to train him and that, when he complained about the harassment, a supervisor told him to "grow a pair of nuts."

The suit also alleges that Henry, who was Black, was asked to work in a truck with a noose hanging from the rearview mirror.

The stress brought on by the the harassment triggered James Henry's epilepsy, the suit says, and he eventually quit his job and, in March of 2020, took his own life.

"The motivation for him and our family seeking legal help is just to hold Meijer accountable," Lauretta Henry said, "as well as bring awareness to the seriousness of workplace hostility and the effect that it had on James and every aspect of his life."

Meijer declined to comment on the lawsuit, but, in court filings, the company denied that Henry was subject to "severe racial discrimination and harassment" and said it investigated the only complaint he made.

Lauretta Henry alleged in court documents that the discrimination and harassment started in April of 2017, when Henry was promoted within Meijer.

The promotion came with training and Henry says the men assigned to train her husband severely harassed him.

"For me, I had noticed a breakdown in the bubbly demeanor of James," she said.

The lawsuit says Henry told a supervisor in June of 2017 "that he was harassed because of his race, that his trainers refused to properly train him, and that he did not want to be discriminated against and kicked out of the apprenticeship program."

Henry's supervisor told him that all mechanics act like that, the lawsuit claims, and that he needed to "grow a pair of nuts." The lawsuit says Meijer did not investigate his complaint.

"When he revealed to me what was happening and what was being said, I felt a sense of sadness for him because I didn't know how to help him," Lauretta Henry said.

The suit alleges, that about a month later, Henry was asked to go on the back of a work truck, where he saw a noose hanging from the rearview mirror. Henry took a picture of it.

James Henry lawsuit against Meijer
A lawsuit against Meijer claims that the late James Henry, who was Black, was asked to work on a truck with a noose hanging from the rearview mirror.

The lawsuit claims he was "paralyzed by fear" and didn't immediately report this incident to his supervisors because Meijer had "summarily dismissed" his prior complaint.

"He often felt like he was a joke for speaking up about how he felt harassed and discriminated against. and that he had become a target for doing so," Lauretta Henry said.

The lawsuit says that the stress and anxiety caused by the harassment worsened Henry's epilepsy.

"He began to have seizures more often," Lauretta Henry said. "He became more distant and short with family friends. And generally just began to dread going to work."

In October 2018, after returning from a five-month medical leave, the lawsuit alleges that Henry was retaliated against by being assigned to work alone in "the cold storage to hang up netting."

A month later, Henry submitted a second formal discrimination complaint to his supervisor, the lawsuit says, but Meijer failed to investigate his claims. At the end of 2018, Henry submitted his resignation and left.

"The hard part is that on March 9, 2020, I was called from work by my mother-in-law to go check on James since he had not answered anyone's calls all day," said Lauretta. "I went to the house and found James deceased next to the dining table, because he had taken his life. He was surrounded by Bibles and a journal, which contained the entries of the issues that he endured at the Meijer warehouse."

In court documents, Meijer disputes several key points of Henry's account, denying that Henry complained of racial discrimination in 2017, denying that he was told to "grow a pair of nuts" and denying that Henry reported that his seizures were stress-induced.

Meijer argued that in June of 2017, "Henry told a supervisor that he felt other mechanics did not want to teach him because he had more seniority at Meijer" and because he would have a preference over them in shifts, saying he "did not want to be discriminated against."

Meijer says Henry did not complain of racial discrimination until November 2018, after he had been involved in a disagreement with a co-worker.

The co-worker allegedly complained that Henry had not properly cleaned up his work area, and Meijer says they promptly investigated Henry's claims. Meijer says Henry later sent an email saying "he had time to cool down and... we all have a better understanding now."

With regard to the photo of the noose, Meijer claims they "lack knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth of the allegation."

Lauretta Henry has been represented by attorneys from Morgan & Morgan in Southfield, but, earlier this month, high-profile personal injury lawyer Geoffrey Fieger appeared in court on Henry's behalf.

Henry says the lawsuit is a continuation of her husband's plans to have Meijer hear and understand what he went through.

"You may never know the impact of your words or your actions, or lack there of, that they may have on someone until it's possibly too late," she said. "And for my family, unfortunately, its too late."

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