Posted on July 27, 2004

Feds File Discrimination Suit Vs. Framingham Co.

Craig M. Douglas, Metrowest Daily News (MA), Jul. 21

A local business owner took the offensive yesterday after learning he’d been slapped with a federal lawsuit charging he discriminated against minority employees by telling them, “It’s a white man’s world; you have to look white, dress white and act white.”

“Yes, I said that. But the way it was repeated was taken out of context,” Don Hoffman, owner of Creative Playthings Ltd. in Framingham, which makes wooden swing sets and playground equipment, said during an interview yesterday.

The suit by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleges that Hoffman regularly insulted black and Hispanic employees — referring to them as “those people” — and fired a former executive, Gerald Flanagan, who recommended hiring one of two black workers for a management position in stores near Philadelphia. The suit seeks unspecified financial damages.

Hoffman said his own controversial comments came after two of Flanagan’s workers — who happened to be minorities — “blatantly violated” the company’s dress code. He said he immediately apologized after questioning whether their “baggy pants, stocking caps” and “over-sized parkas” would frighten our customers.” The two employees still work for the company, Hoffman said.

Flanagan is now the senior vice president of sales for Indiana-based Swingsets Inc., a rival of Creative Playthings.