DENVER (CBS4)- A federal jury has awarded two former employees of Federal Fruit and Produce $1,262,894 in actual and punitive damages after concluding the company and one of its co- owners used racial slurs, discriminated against the men then retaliated and fired them over racial issues.
“I was happy to see that an all white jury would listen to my story and apply the law to the facts,” said Richard Perkins.
Perkins, 46, is a former truck driver for Federal Fruit and Produce. Perkins is also black.
The jury, made up of seven Anglos and one Hispanic, awarded him $962,894 May 25.
The company bills itself as the largest produce wholesaler in Colorado and has locations in Denver and Colorado Springs.
Ted Kouba, the company controller, told CBS4 he would not comment on the jury verdict which was handed down after about a week of testimony.
“The litigation is ongoing and in our minds, there are some unresolved issues here,” said Kouba.
Attorneys fees have yet to be computed but could easily push the award past $1.5 million.
Perkins sued the company after he said a manager and then company co- owner Michael Martelli used racial slurs to refer to him.
“I had never been called a nigger to my face, not ever, not ever,” said Perkins.
Several co- workers of Perkins confirmed hearing Martelli use the derogatory term to refer to Perkins, something Martelli denied in a 2011 deposition.
“Well it’s a racial slur I don’t believe it’s appropriate,” said Martelli.
He said any employees who said he used the term were lying.
But the jury apparently believed Perkins and his co-workers ruling in Perkins favor on every count. They also awarded a white co-worker, Richard Miller, $300,000. Miller was fired by the company after he supported minority co-workers and opposed racially discriminatory treatment at the company.
Perkins said when he objected to what he perceived to be discriminatory treatment in 2009; he was subjected to racial slurs and a pattern of discrimination. He claimed the company gave him lesser routes to drive, changed his days off, gave him inoperable vehicles and continually wrote him up for rule infractions.
“I knew what they were trying to do,” said Perkins. “I wasn’t going to give it to them. I felt that if you want this job you’re going to have to take it from me.”
Federal Fruit and Produce eventually fired Perkins from his $14 an-hour-job after what he said was trumped up disciplinary write ups.
He decided to sue the company over what he contends was humiliating and degrading treatment.
“But to me to be called a nigger to my face, that’s what set me off, that’s what pissed me off. That angered me. It’s been a long time since I’ve been that angry, I can tell you that,” said Perkins.
Perkins said most co-workers expected him to lose at trial.
“To me the jury said this is unacceptable, they’re not going to tolerate it. They sent a message. They sent a powerful message,” said Perkins.
The former driver said he was standing up for other workers at the company who he said have been bullied and belittled over the years but could not stand up for themselves.
“I knew it wasn’t just about me,” said Perkins.
His attorney, Reid Elkus, told CBS4 the verdict was an emotional victory.
“Here it’s wonderful to see a nearly all white jury say that what Martelli and Federal Fruit and Produce did will not be tolerated anymore. And I think thats huge,” said Elkus.
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES: Perkins Claim Document
- Written by Brian Maass for CBSDenver.com