Corporate Accountability and WorkPlace

Ex-Lowe’s Employee Sues After ‘N*gga Black’ Paint, Other Racist Incidents Go Unchecked, Lawsuit Claims

Racial, disability and sex discrimination allegedly cultivated at Gainesville, Va. store.

Diane Almond-Ward

A Lowe’s home improvement store in Gainesville, Va. cultivated a workplace where racist remarks were tolerated and managers could get away with joking that an employee undergoing treatment for breast cancer was as "worthless as a goldfish with tits," a former employee claims in a federal lawsuit.

Diane Almond-Ward, who began working at the Lowe's in Gainesville in 2004, says her eight-year tenure at the location was rife with racism, sexism and other elements of a hostile work environment. Of the examples of alleged racial, disability and sexual discrimination listed in the 17-page lawsuit, several were particularly glaring.

Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007, Almond-Ward took unpaid leave from May to September to deal with her illness. When she returned to work in September, she claims her store manager refused to accommodate her so that she could attend cancer treatments. Almond-Ward claims the store manager purposefully changed her schedule so it would conflict with her medical appointments. The manager insisted that Almond-Ward take vacation to attend her medical appointments instead of expecting accommodation, the lawsuit claims.

On Nov. 15, 2008, Almond-Ward complained to management about being assigned an excessive number of closing shifts. When she asked her manager why she was “being screwed on the schedule,” he told her, “You're being screwed because you're black."

Two other managers were present at the time the comment was made, according to the lawsuit. One said, “You can't say that." The manager who made the remark allegedly responded, "Yes, I can, that’s Diane."

Almond-Ward says she immediately documented the incident and reported it to the area human resources representative. But, instead of getting support, she said the HR rep told her not to stop speaking with the department manager.

"[The HR representative] said, ‘I don't want her to think this is retaliation,’" Almond-Ward told AlterNet. "I said, excuse me. You want me to talk to her so she won't feel like I'm retaliating against her? Aren't you saying that the wrong way around? Shouldn't I be the one who you're saying that to? Shouldn't I be the one you're reassuring that I won't be the one where retaliation won't be used against me? Isn't that what you meant to say? She said, ‘No. I don't want [the department manager] to think we are retaliating against her.’ So she meant what she said. Basically, I was just flabbergasted."

Almond-Ward, who claims in the lawsuit that the same manager referred to her as "too ghetto" to carry out a task on a separate occasion, said the incident was never addressed again.

On Feb. 21, 2010, Almond-Ward claims she received a call from store associates who needed help locating an "NFL" brand paint color. After scanning the computer attached to the paint machine, she found the term "NIGGA BLACK" entered to describe a particular color. Though Almond-Ward reported the incident to management and submitted information on an individual she suspected of inputting the racial slur, no investigation took place, according to the lawsuit. 

On Aug. 2, 2012, an assistant store manager told Almond-Ward that some members of management would hold "male bonding meetings" where they actively conspired to thwart her efforts in the workplace. The organizer of the meetings, the assistant manager confided in Almond-Ward, joked that she was "as worthless as a goldfish with tits."

A veteran of the United States Army, Almond-Ward lost a breast during her battle with cancer. She said the joke caused extreme emotional distress, but no disciplinary action was taken against the person suspected of making the remark, according to the lawsuit.

After filing numerous complaints over her treatment, she was terminated from her position on Dec. 19, 2012.

Almond-Ward’s attorney, Mark Schwartz, told AlterNet that he has rarely represented a client who has suffered as much workplace abuse as Almond-Ward.

"In the 30 years I’ve taken cases, they just get worse and worse and this case is right up there with the worst of them," he said. "I’ve never heard of these terms ‘useless as a goldfish with tits.’ That’s just not part of my vocabulary. I don’t know where this stuff comes from."

Almond-Ward is suing for emotional distress and wrongful termination, based on race, sex, disability and medical condition and is seeking punitive and compensatory damages in excess of $150,000. A Lowe’s representative told AlterNet in an email that the company has not been served with the lawsuit. The lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, is being handled by the Doumar Martin law firm in Arlington, Va.