Confederate decorations in Pleasanton office sparks racial discrimination suit

Image 1 of 5

PLEASANTON (KTVU/BCN)-- A former project manager for a Pleasanton construction company filed a lawsuit against the company and its owners today accusing them of racial discrimination and harassment and subjecting her to unwanted racial commentary and differential treatment.

Filed in Alameda County Superior Court on behalf of Tishay Wright, a 37-year-old married black mother of one, by San Francisco attorney Christopher Dolan, the suit alleges that Southland Construction Management Inc. and its owners, Kenneth and Anita Hayden, decorated their office with photographs of President Donald Trump and Confederate flags saying, "The Southland shall rise again."

Dolan said in a statement that the Haydens appeared to be "proud of their handiwork" and had photographs taken of themselves in front of the Confederate flag, which he said is "the offensive symbol of slavery," with
Kenneth dressed as Donald Trump and Anita appearing to be a Trump supporter with a Confederate flag purse strung over her shoulder.

Dolan said Kenneth Hayden later gave the purse to Wright as a Christmas gift at the company Christmas Party with the offensive photos of him and his wife inside.

Wright said in the statement that she filed the suit "because no one should be treated this way in America in the year 2017."

For the PDF of the lawsuit click here.

"This is not Alabama in the 1940's. This country is going backwards and it has to stop," Wright said.

She also faced cameras on Thursday before the media. "It made me sick to my stomach and I felt like dirt," Wright said of the purse. 

She said everyone else was allowed to choose their gift during a white elephant-style exchange, but Wright's boss Ken Hayden personally handed her the present. "[He] gave it to me as a gift... the only black girl that works there. This is not a joke this is very serious."

The complaint says that Wright felt "horrified, humiliated and deeply fearful that the owners of Southland would go to lengths to silence and intimidate her after multiple complaints to management." When Wright eventually complained about the gift three months later, she was promptly fired. 

Her attorney Dolan said, "This is just a sign of how people feel empowered by our current president, and his racist and sexist statements about women and minorities, to blatantly harass and discriminate against

"The message couldn't be any clearer: 'I stand with Trump and I'm racist. If you don't like it then get out of my business and out of my country,'" Dolan said.

"I've dealt with employment discrimination cases," added Dolan. "I've dealt with race-based cases. I've never dealt with something that was so offensive." 

The suit also accuses Kenneth Hayden of assault and battery, saying that on one occasion he threw a cellphone at Wright, which then ricocheted off of her desk and hit her in the arm.

The suit alleges Wright witnessed Kenneth and Anita Hayden making "racist comments" about other employees of different ethnicities at Southland, including Hispanic and Sikh employees.

The suit, which says Wright worked at the company from June 22, 2015, until March 9 of this year, seeks unspecified general and punitive damages.

Kenneth and Anita Hayden couldn't immediately be reached for comment by KTVU. 

Wright believes her "gift" was a sort of threat, retaliation for complaining about incident a few weeks prior during a company meeting.

"He told us that we were his bitch and told us to take notes on the project that he was going to discuss," said Wright. She sent Anita Hayden an email, explaining that she was uncomfortable with Ken Hayden calling her a "bitch." Wright said Anita told her not to send any more emails about the subject, saying, "Ken and I don't like paper trails."

From there, Wright says she was treated poorly. She described how she was told to train a white woman to take over her own position. Wright said she was sent on unnecessary trips to Santa Cruz during a winter storm, and alleges that someone once threw a cell phone at her head at work.

The company, which was founded in 2000, says on its website that, "Integrity and service are key for Southland Construction."

The company says its mission is "to serve the construction needs of commercial, retail, and industrial businesses with integrity, quality and accountability, while meeting budgets and timelines in order to glorify the
Lord Jesus Christ and restore honesty to the marketplace."

The company says it "seeks to serve our customers, vendors and employees as we serve the Lord Jesus Christ" by displaying qualities such as "honesty, integrity, loyalty, respect for others and ourselves, perseverance, accountability and teamwork."

No dollar amount is asked for in the lawsuit.