Boss used racial slurs in front of black worker, SC suit says

A sales rep for a South Carolina lending agency testified about her branch manager’s blatant racism against black customers, but never received a response when she complained to the company, according to a new federal lawsuit.

The same employee – who is black – was later fired after taking unpaid leave for surgery, the government said.

Now the company and its subsidiary face a federal lawsuit alleging they violated anti-discrimination laws subjecting the worker to a racially hostile work environment and firing her because of a disability. The complaint was filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal agency responsible for protecting and enforcing anti-discrimination laws in the workplace.

“Employers cannot tolerate a racist work environment, even if the racial slurs are directed at a customer rather than another employee,” Melinda C. Dugas, EEOC’s Charlotte District Regional Attorney, said in A press release.

The lawsuit, filed Monday, March 28 in the District of South Carolina, names Georgia-based Community Loans of America Inc. and its subsidiary, Carolina Title Loans, Inc., as defendants.

Representatives for the two companies did not immediately respond to McClatchy News’ March 29 request for comment, and information about their attorneys was not available.

Shaneka Jenkins was hired by Carolina Title Loans as a title manager in training/sales representative in August 2019, according to the complaint. She started at the Spartanburg site, but later moved to Greenville, where she worked closely with the branch manager.

Jenkins’ duties included helping customers apply for loans, appraising vehicles for warranties, accepting payments and arranging repossessions, the government said.

For the first two months, she worked at the Greenville branch, the EEOC said, where Jenkins listened as the manager used “derogatory racial language and slurs when talking about African-American customers.”

Those comments included using racial slurs and saying she hated working with black people, thought she “never paid their bills” and “telling lies,” according to the lawsuit. Once, when the manager hung up the phone after a conversation with a black customer, she was accused of saying something to the effect of “That f—— (racial slur) is getting on my nerves .”

Jenkins was offended by her boss’ comments and tried to report the incidents first to a regional manager and then to another branch manager, the EEOC said. She also called the employee hotline but reportedly never received a response.

“The branch manager’s racist comments created significant emotional distress and made Ms. Jenkins anxious, upset, physically ill and compelled her to seek medical attention,” the EEOC said in the complaint.

In late September 2019, Jenkins requested to take unpaid sick leave for surgery. According to the lawsuit, she was in a car accident in 2015 that fractured her foot and required multiple corrective surgeries. An area manager discussed some possible accommodations they could make upon his return to work and approved the request.

But weeks later, when Jenkins asked to return with the help of crutches or a wheelchair, the loan company refused, the EEOC said.

Carolina Title Loans would have barred Jenkins from returning “until she can return without physical restrictions,” the lawsuit says. The government said she was eventually fired for “leaving the job” before she could return.

Jenkins then filed a discrimination complaint with the EEOC, which determined in February 2021 that she had a case. The agency attempted to resolve the case out of court, but filed suit after those efforts failed.

The EEOC accused Community Loans of America and Carolina Title Loans of violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act. He seeks a permanent injunction restraining the companies from further alleged discriminatory practices as well as back pay, past and future financial loss and damages to Jenkins.

Neither company has yet responded to the lawsuit, according to court documents.

Hayley Fowler is a reporter for The Charlotte Observer, covering breaking news and real-time news across North and South Carolina. She holds a journalism degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and previously worked as a legal reporter in New York City before joining the Observer in 2019.

Carol M. Barragan