Racist slurs and lack of oversight at center of Clark County, Washington, discrimination lawsuit

By Troy Brynelson (OPB)
May 12, 2023 1:01 a.m.

Workers allegedly used racist slurs, said they admired Adolf Hitler, and talked of “building a border wall” around their job site to exclude Latino colleagues, according to the lawsuit

A nearly two-year-old hostile workplace lawsuit in which three Latino employees allege the government of Clark County turned a blind eye to racism within its public works crews could soon be heading to federal court.

U.S. District Judge David G. Estudillo recently ruled that the workers raised reasonable claims of “severe and pervasive racial harassment” and that a jury could find the county had ignored those claims. The trial is scheduled to start May 22.


Clark County officials declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.

The case is as much about the county’s alleged indifference and failure to act as it is about the incidents, according to attorneys for the three men.

Related: Latino Clark County workers file discrimination lawsuit, allege racism “on almost weekly basis”

“No one should have to endure racial insults or discrimination from coworkers or supervisors, yet that is what Clark County is defending in court,” said Luis Lozada, a spokesperson for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a national Latino civil rights organization based in Los Angeles. “Put simply, the county chose to endorse the abuse of Latino workers and a culture that allows it.”

The case was brought in 2021 by Ray Alanis, Isaiah Hutson and Elias Peña, three Latino men who work in the county department responsible for maintaining public assets like roads, sidewalks and parks.

The behavior they alleged to have seen and experienced in that department ranges from racist remarks fueled by local and national politics to physical threats and workplace double standards.


In 2018, they reported, colleagues and their direct supervisors started to call them called them “Manuel labor” or “the brown crew.” Hutson testified that one coworker said they “worked for their white slave master.” Another coworker talked of admiring Adolf Hitler.

In one instance, they testified, a coworker said “it was a good day because cops are killing [n-word] and kicking out the Mexicans.” Another coworker, later promoted to superintendent, allegedly said he was “building a border wall” around the public works facility.

In 2019, a coworker allegedly pointed at two of the Latino men and said “the country’s got too much cancer, there’s cancer here.” Hutson testified that another coworker talked of throwing equipment off the roof at them and sabotaging their equipment.

Alanis, Hutson and Peña said supervisors scrutinized their work more than their white colleagues

Alanis testified to being reprimanded for not wearing a headset one day, even though his white coworker also did not wear one. That supervisor also allegedly accused Alanis of trying to break a heavy-duty truck but ignored a white coworker in the same circumstance.

When Alanis, Hutson and Peña complained, they said, nothing happened.

They said they complained to the department’s superintendent, Tim Waggoner. Hutson testified that Waggoner told him, “I don’t believe you.” Waggoner did report the complaint to human resources but took no action himself.

After the “cancer” remark, Hutson said, he complained directly to human resources. He testified that the human resources director replied that “when people feel threatened, sometimes they threaten back.”

When human resources investigated, according to the lawsuit, the department found no violations. Alanis, Hutson and Peña appealed later that year to County Manager Kathleen Otto, who denied the appeal.

In his recent ruling, Estudillo, the federal judge, dismissed some claims from the Latino men that centered on disparities in skills training and pay, but proceeded with claims of a hostile work environment.

“A reasonable jury could find the county knew of the anti-Latino remarks and insults made ... but failed to take reasonable corrective action,” Estudillo wrote.