George Williams a former employee at ConAgra’s El Dorado, Arkansas poultry processing plant, claimed that he was dismissed after 32 years of employment because he was black. ConAgra contended Williams was let go for “conduct unbecoming a supervisor” following his skirmish with a fellow line supervisor, according to a report by The National Law Journal.
Willy White, a line manager with ConAgra who is also black, grabbed Williams around the neck during an argument that escalated to Williams shoving White away and then leaving the room. Later in the day though, Williams apologized to White. Shortly after the scuffle, Williams was fired for “conduct unbecoming a supervisor.”
Williams then sued ConAgra in 2002, claiming that his termination was discriminatory and the work environment was hostile in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He contended that during his career at the plant, where 85% to 90% of employees are black, he experienced systematic hostility in the form of slurs, racist jokes, physical encounters with white management, and a differential application of discipline.
A federal jury consisting of two blacks and six whites rejected CongAgra’s defense that Williams was fired for fighting and sided with Williams. His award consisted of $120,210 in lost wages and benefits, $870,578 in noneconomic damages on his termination claim, $1,100,397 in compensatory damages on his hostile-work-environment claim and $12,127,500 in punitive damages.