For Immediate Release on March 1, 2017.
CONTACT: Scott C. G. Blankenship (206) 343-2700 (work)
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Anti-Mexican Immigrant Racial Harassment Lawsuit Filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle, Washington Results in Public Apology and $1.85 Million Settlement
March 1, 2017, a former crewmember on a 155-foot Alaskan fishing vessel on the Bering Sea finalized his settlement yesterday in a race harassment lawsuit against his former employer, Alaska Longline, LLC. The case was scheduled for a jury trial in May 2017. Mr. Francisco Miranda, a U.S. Citizen of Mexican National Origin, testified that the captain of the ship targeted him and other crewmembers based on their race and Mexican heritage. The Captain openly announced his animus towards Mexican immigration and the Hispanic crew.
Miranda and other crewmembers testified that the Captain of the vessel openly expressed contempt towards Mexican and Hispanic employees for “taking white guys’ jobs.” On multiple occasions, the Captain complained that Mexican immigrants were ruining America, stating “They [Mexicans] should all swim back to Mexico.” Miranda and crewmembers offered sworn testimony that crewmembers of Mexican National Origin were often referred to by racial epithets like “God Damn Spic,” “Wetback,” “Beaner,” “Dirty Mexican,” and “Stinky Mexican” instead of being called by actual names.
Witness testimony further revealed that the racially hostile environment worsened to the point that a Hispanic crewmate from Mexico died after being forced to work extremely long hours without breaks while seriously ill. During that voyage, the Captain and First Mate forced the Hispanic crew to work 22- to 24-hour shifts with just a short meal break, while they allowed the white crewmembers to take longer breaks and get more rest. After Mr. Miranda’s fellow Hispanic crewmember expired, his corpse was wrapped in a survival suit and left exposed on deck where it froze. Miranda and others testified that the crew were forced to step over the body and see it regularly over the course of several days. Mr. Miranda objected to the mistreatment of his deceased Mexican crewmate and the racial comments, and was fired soon thereafter.
The settlement came after a new company took over the management of Alaska Longline and reviewed the substantial evidence of racial harassment uncovered in the federal lawsuit. It immediately began efforts to address the issues raised in the lawsuit and to properly compensate Mr. Miranda. The Company tried to provide closure and justice for Mr. Miranda by accepting an earlier settlement offer from Mr. Miranda’s attorney, but its insurance company refused to accept this settlement and end the litigation. Accordingly, Alaska Longline entered into an agreement with Mr. Miranda, in which it allowed judgment to be taken against it and assigned its rights against its insurance company to Mr. Miranda so that he could pursue insurance proceeds. The insurance company ultimately agreed to settle the case for $1.85 Million.
“This case demonstrates the power of the civil justice system and the law to combat bigotry and injustice. It should serve as an important reminder that no one is above the law, whether it is the captain of a fishing vessel or the CEO in the boardroom,” said Miranda’s lead attorney Scott Blankenship. “Ultimately, the new management company had the integrity to recognize the gravity of the allegations when faced with actual proof, and then did more than just pay money to fix it.”
Mark Scheer, a spokesman for Alaska Longline, provided an official statement demonstrating big changes within the company that have resulted from Mr. Miranda’s experience and willingness to seek justice through the courts: “The company was stunned and saddened to learn of the racial harassment and discrimination alleged by Mr. Miranda aboard the vessel. Mr. Miranda’s allegations and evidence of his treatment on the vessel were abhorrent. The owners and managers are committed to being an equal opportunity employer focused on diversity and providing equal opportunities for everyone. Since the events concerning Mr. Miranda’s employment, it has redoubled its efforts to improve its management structure, including retaining separate and experienced vessel managers. The former management team that was with the company at the time are no longer employed. The company has a vigorous training program to educate its leadership in an effort to make certain that nothing like these events occur in the future. The individuals responsible for these events left our employment several years ago and have no current relationship with the vessel and any related companies. We want to take this opportunity to publicly apologize to Mr. Miranda for what he experienced.”
Mr. Miranda is pleased that his lawsuit resulted in a public apology and tangible changes at the company. He hopes that this settlement will also have a wider impact on companies where racial harassment and discrimination are still rampant.
Scott Blankenship served as lead counsel for Mr. Miranda with associate attorneys Rick Goldsworthy and Robin Shishido of The Blankenship Law Firm. The Blankenship Law Firm, is an AV-rated law firm located in downtown Seattle with lawyers licensed in Washington, Oregon, and Alaska. The firm practices in state and federal courts, while practicing primarily employment law and related complex civil litigation in all phases of negotiation and litigation including appeals. More information is available online at www.blankenshiplawfirm.com.