COMPLAINT: ZEP INC VP REPEATEDLY SAYS “COON ASSES” DURING ZOOM TRAINING
A vice president at a national manufacturing company repeatedly referred to Black employees as “coon asses” during a November training session, according to a complaint filed by a Chicago woman with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Zep Inc. is accused of delaying its response to a complaint made by Adrienne Harmon-Beckwith, who was the only Black employee in the training session. Then, nearly a month after Harmon-Beckwith raised concerns to HR, Zep defended the corporate leader, telling her no one else was offended and that it was clear “you can’t get over it.”
Harmon-Beckwith, who still works for Zep, then filed a discrimination charge with the EEOC. In addition to alleging a hostile work environment, she also alleges that Zep is engaging in discriminatory pay practices, assigning her with “dead” accounts only to then transfer the commission-based accounts she revives to white males.
Zep Inc. is an Atlanta-based company that manufactures and distributes cleaning products around the world. Among their 2,000 employees is a sales team based in the Chicago suburbs. Harmon-Beckwith joined that team six years ago.
She was one of roughly a dozen Zep employees participating in the November online training session when the vice president prefaced his comments with “I don’t mean to offend anyone, but…” and then repeatedly insulted certain Black employees as being “coon asses.”
Harmon-Beckwith alleges Zep defended the vice president, saying he had been there nearly 20 years and no one else had complained about his behavior. When she objected to its response, a company officer told her it was clear “you can’t get over it,” then offered her a severance agreement that included eight weeks’ pay.
“I expected Zep to take this matter seriously, as an opportunity to change its corporate culture,” says Harmon-Beckwith. “Instead, Zep defended him and told me to go be quiet in a corner. I was humiliated and made to feel like, by complaining, I did something wrong.”
“Despite publicly pledging a commitment to diversity and inclusion, Zep internally condones the use of racist, insulting, and illegal conduct by its corporate leaders. We look forward to an inquiry into its pay practices and are determined to hold Zep accountable,” says Harmon-Beckwith’s attorney, Tamara Holder.
The filing of an EEOC charge is the first required step in the legal process for a federal discrimination complaint. Harmon-Beckwith’s filing includes numerous emails from Zep Inc. leadership acknowledging the incident and diminishing the impact of the slur.
If you have information about Zep Inc., please contact Tamara Holder at firstname.lastname@example.org or 312-818-3850.