Tuesday, February 18, 2020
Feb. 18, 2020

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Suit: Complaint about Obama doll hanging by noose cost man his job

Man who worked in Puyallup office claims wrongful discharge

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A Gresham, Ore., man who was fired from driving for the company 1-800-Pack-Rat alleges he was discriminated against after he complained about a doll of President Barack Obama hung from a bookcase with a noose around its neck in the company’s Puyallup office.

Alexander Metoyer filed a federal wrongful discharge lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Portland. He claims the storage container and moving company created an intimidating, hostile and offensive work environment and failed to respond to his complaints. Instead, the company increased scrutiny of his work, leading to his firing, the suit alleges.

The company acknowledges that Metoyer emailed a photo of an African-American doll with a noose around its neck to the human resources office, lawyer David J. Riewald wrote in the company’s response. Human resources emailed Metoyer that it wanted to hire a forensic expert to analyze the phone that Metoyer used to take the pictures, Riewald wrote, but it’s unclear why the company never followed through on that, according to court records.

The company said Metoyer was fired for insubordination and performance problems. It denies any discrimination.

The company also argues in a motion filed this week that the lawsuit should be put on hold and Metoyer compelled to resolve the dispute through arbitration.

Metoyer, through his lawyers, has declined arbitration, according to court records.

Metoyer was the only African-American working out of the Puyallup office when he was hired in late August 2015. On Feb. 9, 2016, Metoyer entered the office and saw the doll and noose, his lawsuit says. Metoyer immediately removed the doll and placed it on his desk. The next day, Metoyer entered the office and saw the doll hanging again in a noose and removed it again, the lawsuit says.

Metoyer was shocked to see the doll the first time and “fearful of his safety” the second time, his attorney, Ashley Bannon Moore, wrote in the suit.

A couple of days after the second discovery of the doll, Metoyer’s supervisor asked him, “Whatever happened to my Obama?” according to the suit. Metoyer said his immediate supervisor addressed him by saying, “Hey boy” or “Aye boy,” but never used the term “boy” with other employees.

The supervisor also criticized Metoyer’s clothing, suggesting he looked like a “drug dealer” or “gang banger,” the suit says, but Metoyer said the company didn’t enforce a dress code until after he reported the doll.

Metoyer says he unsuccessfully sought a transfer to another office.

Metoyer, who was fired in September 2016, made $18 an hour as a driver, according to court records. He said he never negotiated any terms of an arbitration agreement when he worked for the company and would be unable to afford the costs of arbitration, according to court documents.

Metoyer’s lawyer also noted that the attorneys for 1-800-Pack-Rat never raised the arbitration when first replying to the federal complaint earlier this summer.

The moving company contends Metoyer reviewed and signed an arbitration agreement when he was hired.

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