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Big Island Food Distribution Company Sued for Racial Harassment

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The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is suing a Big Island food company after a Black employee says he was harassed and later fired in retaliation.

Suisan Company is a wholesale food distributing company located in Hilo.

The lawsuit alleges that a manager and supervisor used racial slurs against the employee.

After the employee complained, the investigating manager said it was not a big deal, and continued to make derogatory remarks and joked about slavery, the lawsuit says.

The worker then filed a written complaint. The manager responded by suspending then firing the worker.

The worker brought the case to EEOC. The EEOC determined the situation was in violation of federal law, and reached out to the Suisan Company to settle on a conciliation process.

Nicole St. Germain is the public relations manager for the EEOC. When asked about the conciliation process, she said, "We can’t force anybody to participate in it. We can’t force anybody to take the demand that’s on the table to resolve the complaint."

"In this case, the company and the EEOC could not reach a resolution. Therefore, the case moved into court," St. Germain told HPR.

The EEOC will go through a mediation process with Suisan before going to trial.

Suisan has 126 employees and had sales of nearly $70 million in 2020, according to Hawaii Business Magazine.

Zoe Dym was a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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