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Black Laborers On Sound Transit Project Allege Discrimination By Contractor

Paula Wissel
Reginald Wright, Rashad Pearson and attorney Stephen Teller at news conference in Seattle.

Charges of racial discrimination are being aimed at a Sound Transit contractor. 

A group of African American laborers who worked on the Sound Transit Link Light Rail project at Husky Stadium are suing, seeking class action status in federal court. The men, four of whom appeared at a press conference in Seattle, say they were demeaned and fired because of their race.

Leonard Rollins says he was looking forward to several years of work when he was hired by contractor Traylor Brothers, operating Traylor/Frontier-Kemper Joint Venture for the Sound Transit project, back in June of 2011. But his hopes were soon dashed.

“I’ve worked plenty of jobs and I can’t believe what I saw," he said.

Rollins says he was an apprentice, but was denied appropriate training, relegated to menial tasks and in general treated worse than white employees in similar positions. Within two weeks, Rollins was fired.

Rashad Pearson says he was an experienced laborer who’d done other tunnel work, yet he was relegated to picking up trash by the contractor, then terminated after just five days. He cites a Nazi tattoo on his former boss as evidence of blatant racism.

“He’s the superintendent of the job and inside the palm of his hand, he’s got a swastika tattooed in it. I recognized this as he presented me my check, saying I was terminated,” Pearson said.

All the men, including Reginald Wright, say the experience took an emotional toll.

“I don’t even do construction no more. That’s how bad I got shook up. I don’t even work construction,” Wright said.

The company, Traylor/Frontier-Kemper JV, categorically denies all charges of racism.

The company claims any terminations were because the workers lacked skills, not because of the color of their skin. 

There was a Sound Transit investigation that did show there were cases where race may have been a factor. 

Additionally, a federal EEOC investigation indicated there was enough evidence to go forward with a lawsuit, which is what the men seeking class action status in federal court are pursuing.

Paula is a former host, reporter and producer who retired from KNKX in 2021. She joined the station in 1989 as All Things Considered host and covered the Law and Justice beat for 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.