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Former BAE Norfolk shipyard worker sues, says complaints about racially hostile co-worker were ignored

A former pipefitter for BAE Systems Norfolk Ship Repair is suing the company, claiming that her repeated complaints about another employee’s racially offensive language were ignored by supervisors.

Doretha Steeples filed her lawsuit Friday in U.S. District Court in Norfolk. She is not asking for a specific amount in damages.

Steeples, who is Black, began working as a skilled pipefitter at BAE’s Norfolk shipyard in May 2018, according to the complaint. She was a contract worker and employed through a staffing agency.

On her first day at the shipyard, a white female employee who worked as a “helper” told Steeples she couldn’t use a restroom there because she wasn’t a permanent employee, the lawsuit says. Steeples had worked there in the past and knew that wasn’t true.

Steeples often heard the woman use the N-word, the lawsuit said. The woman also called Black females who came into the restroom things like “ghetto-fabulous bitches” and “wratched-nasty hoes,” the claim said.

Steeples told the woman she was offended by her comments and asked her not to speak that way, but the woman said it was her First Amendment right to say whatever she wanted, according to the complaint.

Steeples made multiple verbal and written complaints to three different supervisors over a period of several months, the lawsuit said. The supervisors told her they would take care of it, but nothing changed.

Despite her repeated complaints, Steeples and the woman were assigned to work together. The two had a heated exchange in November 2018, the lawsuit said. Steeples told a supervisor afterward it was a verbal confrontation while the woman reported Steeples had physically assaulted her.

Steeples initially was suspended but was cleared of wrongdoing later that day, the lawsuit says. A week later she was forced to move to the night shift while the other woman remained on the day shift. Steeples quit a few days after that.

Tim Paynter, a spokesman for BAE Systems, said the company is “fully committed to fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace and culture, and any behaviors contrary to that are unacceptable, and are not in keeping with our company’s values.”

BAE officials were reviewing the lawsuit Monday and we are not in a position to comment further on it, he said.

Steeples claims she has suffered great emotional distress and anxiety as a result of the hostile work environment and has questioned her professional worth.

The lawsuit said the other woman continues to work at BAE.