SEATTLE (Legal Newsline) — The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced a lawsuit July 20 against Big 5 Sporting Goods, one of the largest retailers of sporting goods in the western United States, over allegations of allowing ongoing racial harassment.

According to EEOC, Robert Sanders was the only African-American employee at the Big 5 retail store on Whidbey Island and was constantly subjected to harassment from store managers. Sanders purportedly told upper management of the harassment on multiple occasions, but the company failed to act. Additionally, Sanders was allegedly retaliated against through increased workloads and denials of breaks.

"I came prepared to work hard and put in my dues to become a manager," Sanders said. "But I was met with comments about my race: 'You're the perfect definition of 'spook' because your skin is so dark, but your teeth are so white.' And it went downhill from there, to being taunted by another manager trainee about 'ending up in a river, dead.' Whidbey Island is a small place, and I didn't want to leave my house. I felt like Big 5 took away my ability to not just succeed at work, but to simply live my life with dignity and without fear."

The EEOC seeks monetary damages for the employee and injunctive relief against the defendants to prevent future harassment.

"The delay by Big 5 to take action to investigate and stop the racial harassment and retaliation is in­excusable,” said Nancy Sienko, field director for the Seattle office of the EEOC's San Francisco District. “The slurs and threats that Mr. Sanders faced have a terrible history and should never be tolerated. It is the employer's responsibility to ensure that all employees can work in a safe environ­ment free from racial hostility so they can succeed to their highest potential."

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