Ruth Motte worked her way up to human resources manager at Prestige Transportation Services LLC.
While in that position, she told the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission she witnessed racism at the Miami company of a kind more reminiscent of the 1950s than the 21st century.
Motte said her supervisor Teresa Ramirez told her "black people were trouble and would sue the company, and that they should not be hired," according to an EEOC action filed in federal court last week.
When black applicants came to interview at Prestige or its predecessor, Airbus Alliance Inc., Ramirez and another supervisor "would stand behind the applicant and rub their hands on their skin to display their disdain for black people," the complaint said.
Motte is one of several employees mentioned in the action assigned to U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez in Miami. The EEOC claims she was fired because she complained about discriminatory practices at Prestige.
The Prestige allegations are an example of the federal agency's new focus on filing cases that shows systemic problems rather than single-employee discrimination, said Kelly-Ann Cartwright, a labor and employment attorney with Holland & Knight in Miami.
Placing a priority on systemic employment abuses was part of the EEOC's four-year strategic plan issued last year for enforcing workers' rights.
"The EEOC is now more likely to bring a patterns and practice-type claim against a company, whereas in the past they only made claims for the individual charging party," said Cartwright, the executive partner in Holland & Knight's Miami office. "We haven't had a lot of them in South Florida, but they are popping up around the country."
Cartwright mentioned systematic actions against Wal-Mart Stores Inc. for allegedly discriminating against disabled employees and Bass Pro Shops for failing to hire minorities and destroying records.
Prestige transports airline crew members between airports and their hotels.