Radioactive Racism at Tennessee Nuclear Waste Processing Company

Sue Sturgis, Institute for Southern Studies, January 26, 2010

A radioactive waste processing company in Memphis, Tenn. recently agreed to pay $650,000 to settle a race discrimination lawsuit charging it with exposing African-American workers to higher radiation levels than white workers.

The legal action was brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against RACE, which stands for Radiological Assistance, Consulting and Engineering. The company, which processes radioactive waste from hospitals, laboratories and nuclear power plants, was purchased in 2006 by the Swedish waste processor Studsvik, which points out that alleged incidents occurred prior to the sale.

“Some of the discrimination alleged in this case is unusually extreme because of the physical danger it created for African American employees,” said EEOC Acting Chair Stuart J. Ishimaru. {snip}

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According to the EEOC lawsuit, white managers at RACE subjected African-American employees to excessive radiation exposure–more than their white co-workers. The company allegedly assigned black workers to the shop with radioactive waste while white employees worked elsewhere, and it manipulated the dosimeters that measure radiation exposure to mask the actual levels that black workers received.

Courtney Britton, the lead worker in the shop, and other African-American employees were also subjected to racist comments by white supervisors. The complaint said that Britton’s boss referred to him and other black employees with the N-word and other derogatory slurs such as “boy.” When he finally complained about the racial harassment, Britton was suspended for 15 days and then laid off.

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Besides providing for the payment of $650,000 to 23 African-American employees {snip} Studsvik agreed to adopt an anti-discrimination policy and provide mandatory training about the policy to employees.

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