A black employee of a national solar business is suing the company for racial harassment, alleging a Sacramento-based manager repeatedly used racial slurs and built a "White only" clubhouse out of cardboard boxes inside its Natomas warehouse.
In February 2017, Teshawn Solomon started as a temporary worker for Vivint Solar, a publicly traded home automation and energy company based in Utah.
Within six months, he had been moved from his position at a Concord facility into a full-time permanent job working nights at Vivint's Natomas warehouse near the former Sleep Train Arena. There, he experienced repeated instances of racial harassment by supervisors, he said.
Solomon on Monday filed a racial harassment and discrimination lawsuit against Vivint Solar in Sacramento Superior Court. Solomon, 36, declined to be interviewed by The Bee but responded to emailed questions through his attorney, Corey Bennett.
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Solomon alleges that the Natomas facility was a "racially hostile work environment" and that, as one of two African-American employees at the location, he "was consistently singled out for discrimination and harassment by his predominately Caucasian co-workers and supervisors."
The abuse included a non-African-American manager in another department calling him a variation of the "n-word" so frequently it was "like it was part of his everyday vocabulary," Solomon said.
When Solomon told the manager not to use the word, the manager "tried to explain that he grew up with black people" and did not mean it negatively, Bennett said.
Solomon was "afraid to respond too aggressively" because he feared retaliation, he said. But he told the manager the word was unacceptable. The manager continued to use it.
The same manager who used the epithet with Solomon also allegedly told him to "reach his black hands out" when being handed a box, the suit said.
Another time, the man said "monkeys like bananas" and handed one to Solomon, the suit claims.
According to the suit, the harassment accelerated in March 2018 when Solomon arrived at work to find that the manager and other employees in his department had built a fortress out of cardboard boxes around their desks, spray painting "White only" on it.
"It's like a white pride playhouse or something," Bennett said.
Solomon said he felt "shock, disbelief and confusion" when he saw it.
Solomon said he showed a picture of the fort and the spray-painted sign to a regional manager and said: "I don't know who wrote this or if this is some kind of joke, but it's not funny."
He said the manager responded: "What do you want me to do about it, T?"
The complaint alleges that none of the employees involved in constructing the fort were disciplined, even after another employee complained to human resources and resigned.
The fort remained standing for two weeks before it was "slowly deconstructed," the suit claims.
A few weeks later, the lawsuit alleges, the regional manager "went out of his way to tell (Solomon) that he should not take any of his complaints to human resources."
Solomon resigned two days later, feeling he had "nowhere he could turn to for relief from the discrimination, harassment and retaliation he was experiencing," according to the suit.
Solomon said he also worried about his safety working at night in the warehouse with few others around.
Vivint responded to questions about the lawsuit with a statement provided by its head of communications, Helen Langan, apologizing to Solomon and apparently conceding the harassment occurred.
"We typically have a policy of not commenting on specific personnel matters or pending litigation," the statement said. "However, in this case, we wish to extend a sincere apology to Mr. Solomon for the deeply concerning and understandably upsetting situation he endured.
"Mr. Solomon's experience was an isolated one and it has been addressed by our HR team to ensure something like this never happens again. Mr. Solomon's experience simply does not reflect the values or culture of Vivint Solar and stands in direct contradiction to our core values as a company."
Langan did not respond to inquiries about whether the two supervisors named in the suit are still employed by the company or whether they faced discipline.
Bennett said it was "surprising that (Vivint) are seemingly acknowledging this" but disputed it was an isolated incident.
"I reject the notion that it doesn't reflect the company culture because things like this can only happen when they are ignored for a long time," Bennett said.
Solomon, whose has four kids under the age of 6, has not yet been able to find new work, Bennett said. Solomon served 12 years in prison for grand theft auto and robbery and was released in 2012, according to court records.
Originally from Long Beach, he moved to Sacramento for a "fresh start" and has not had interaction with law enforcement since his release, Bennett said. But being a felon makes it hard to find a job, he said.
"I just want a career, to be able to guide my kids through college, and to provide them with a comfortable, safe environment," Solomon said.