A production manager lost her job at a small industrial company in Buffalo, Minn., for defending her recommendation to her boss that a black worker be permanently hired, according to a federal lawsuit.
When the owner rebuffed the recommendation, he punctuated his point with racist language, alleges the suit filed Thursday by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against Izza Bending Tube & Wire on behalf of former manager Myrna Peltonen.
The worker, Randall L. Smith, "worked hard and deserved the opportunity for a full-time permanent position with benefits at Izza," Peltonen said Friday. "This case is about doing what is right and taking a stand against intolerance. Mr. Smith deserved better. Everyone at Izza deserved better."
Smith "was shocked and grateful" for Peltonen risking her livelihood on his behalf, said Minneapolis attorney David Schlesinger, who represented Smith in a separate suit that was settled out of court.
"Myrna simply recognized that Randall was a good guy and a hard worker who deserved a fair shot," Schlesinger said.
Landgraf's company specializes in metal manufacturing and fabrication services, including metal pipe bending and cutting. He and his attorney did not respond to requests Friday for reaction to the EEOC suit.
Schlesinger said Friday that "during Smith's employment, there was only one other black worker at Izza. My understanding is that person was fired."
According to the suit filed on behalf of Peltonen, 42, of Buffalo, and the other by Smith, 34, of Montrose:
Peltonen, who is white, recommended in August 2011 to owner Scott Landgraf, who is also white, that he offer a permanent job to Smith, a temporary employee who had logged 500 hours with the company, making him eligible for the opportunity.
Instead, Landgraf directed Peltonen not to hire Smith, his order accompanied by racist language for emphasis, and then told her to let him go.
When she refused, Peltonen was demoted to an office position and had her pay cut.
Specifically, according to Jean Kamp, an associate regional attorney for the EEOC, Landgraf said to Peltonen, " 'We have not had good luck with [N-word].' "
Peltonen then complained to Creative Staffing Solutions, the temporary employment agency that placed Smith, about what Landgraf had said. She also told Smith.
Smith asked the agency's owner, Rose Vaughn, what the agency was going to do about the situation. Vaughn suggested to Smith that he not work there, and she then gave Izza a false reason for why Smith would not be working there anymore. The agency also stopped trying to find work for Smith.
Peltonen filed a discrimination charge with the EEOC a couple of weeks later, and that got her fired in January 2012. She had been with the company for about 14 months.
Creative Staffing's attorney said Friday that it denies allegations that the agency did not act appropriately on Smith's behalf. "Creative has a policy to thoroughly investigate and work to remedy any concerns raised by the temporary employees it places in the workforce, and it fully followed its policy in this case," Bob Halagan said in an emailed statement.
Kamp said that Landgraf has denied using racist language in connection with Smith and has said he decided not to hire him because he had doubts about the quality of his work.
"Myrna Peltonen was a woman who felt she was just doing her job, and did not want to make a fuss," Kamp said. " But she felt that this was wrong and that she had to become involved. The EEOC will support such a woman as strongly as we can."
By suing, the EEOC hopes to win back pay and force Izza to put in place an anti-retaliation policy that complies with federal law.
Peltonen did find a new job "some weeks after" being fired, Kamp said.
Smith came to a confidential settlement in his suit in January with Izza and Creative Staffing Solutions, Kamp said. Peltonen gave a deposition in that case, Kamp added.