Caught In A Time Warp, Nucor Ordered To Pay Its Way Out Of Jim Crow Racism

By Barney Blakeney

Charleston attorney Armand Derfner described the work environment at Nucor Steel East of the Cooper River in Berkeley County as a modern industrial facility trapped in a time warp where racial attitudes and resulting behavior cast Black and white employees in roles reminiscent of the Jim Crow south.

Armand Derfner

Based in Charlotte, N.C. with plants primarily located in the southeast, Nucor is the United States’ largest producer of steel. And though it was formed in the mid-1960s, the work environment was a classic example of Jim Crow racism where despite lucrative salaries, Black employees were subjected to racist language and graffiti, displays of nooses, Confederate flags and discrimination in promotions.

Last month a federal judge, after a 14-year court battle, agreed those Black employees were discriminated against and awarded them more than $22 million to settle the lawsuit that began in 2004. Derfner said roughly 150 former and current employees will proportionately share the award.

The hostile work environment extended to the company’s fight against the employees’ claims. Challenges to the employees’ right to file a class action lawsuit led to what the veteran civil rights attorney described as a court battle that lasted longer than any in his experience which includes the epic legal challenge to discrimination in Charleston County School District.

The case finally went to court in 2016 and was scheduled to be heard last year. Unforeseen circumstances postponed that until January and last month without admitting guilt, Nucor agreed to the settlement. The suit mandates Nucor change its criteria for promotions, but more importantly, the work environment has changed over the years, Derfner said.

“Hopefully things will be a lot different from when the lawsuit began,” he said. “I saw that a number of white employees felt what was going on wasn’t right. I think Nucor was unusual among today’s manufacturing companies. It was like they were caught in a time warp.”

2 Comments

  1. Robert Cook on March 29, 2018 at 3:00 pm

    This is an interesting article….as someone who worked for Nucor during part of this time (but doesn’t anymore, so I am free to say what I want); and knows the culture very well, I will give my comments on this article…for what that is worth:
    1. To say that Managers at Nucor were racist or would tolerate a racist facility is blatantly false and misleading.
    2. Were there people at Nucor who were racist (or in many cases immature)…yes. There are people who are racist who work for Apple, the FBI and probably the NAACP….there are racists in every organization of size in this country.
    Nucor, as is their culture, hires many people from small towns near their plants (in this case think Awendaw, Cherry Hill and Moncks corner. Many of these people were Red-Necks (Confederate flag wearing, set in their ways people…who aren’t about to let an “outsider” tell them what to do)…there really is no other way to put it.
    Many of these Rednecks are racist…Are all Rednecs racist, no. Are all racists, Rednecks…no. Is there a higher percentage of racists, who are also Rednecks…I believe the answer is yes (although I have no empirical data to back this up).
    So, Nucor hired a bunch of Rednecks to work at a mill…and those Rednecks made immature and inappropriate jokes and comments.
    Could Nucor have done more to stop this behavior…probably.
    Did Nucor condone this behavior…never in a million years.
    My side of the story…for what it is worth. Unlike this lawyer, I am not benefiting from this lawsuit.

    • Alec Whispers on March 30, 2018 at 1:08 pm

      What does immaturity have to do with racist behavior? I know immature people, I have been one at times. I was never tempted to harass someone because of their ethnic background.

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