Owner of cotton warehouse responds to racist comments

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A Memphis cotton company fired its supervisor after a story WREG broke about racist comments in the workplace.

The racist comments were caught on audio-recording inside the Atkinson Cotton Warehouse.

The supervisor could be heard telling a black worker that he couldn’t use the water fountain.

“I need to put a sign here that says ‘white people only’,” the supervisor says in the recording.

The warehouse owner wants to tell his side of the story.

Even though E.W. Atkinson owns the cotton warehouse and the warehouse even has his name on it, he says the management there is provided by another company.

He says he wasn’t around enough to know about the alleged abuse going on.

“I just wasn’t around. I’m sorry I didn’t know sooner,” said Atkinson.

Atkinson says he’s as shocked as anyone else by the recordings.

“Why can’t I use the microwave, man?” Untonio Harris asks in the recording.

“Because you are not white,” the supervisor replies.

Atkinson was also shocked to hear the workers’ stories:

“Telling me, ‘Black man, don’t get on this white man’s lift,’” Harris said.

“He would be like ‘You need to think like a white man,’” said Marrio Mangrum.

Atkinson says he had no idea the supervisor running his cotton warehouse could be saying racists remarks to black workers.

“I don’t want people to think that we would let this behavior go on without doing something about it, seriously,” said Atkinson.

“He told me, ‘Shut up! Don’t you hear the white people are in here talking,’” said Harris.

Harris says he was so sick of the treatment at work, he decided to record his boss on his cell phone. What he caught on audio is being heard nationwide.

“What they do when they catch me drinking your water?” asks Harris in the recording.

“That’s when we hang you,” said the supervisor.

“I couldn’t believe he would say that,” said Atkinson.

Atkinson responded Wednesday to the EEOC complaint filed against his business, saying while Harris and Mangrum were his employees, he takes no responsibility for what the supervisor said.

He says he outsources the management to another company, Federal Compress, and the supervisor is that company’s employee.

Federal compress released this statement:

Federal Compress maintains a strict zero-tolerance policy which prohibits any form of racially or other discriminatory conduct or language in the workplace and provides a process for reporting such violations to Human Resources for investigation.  When Federal Compress was first made aware of these allegations concerning an employee working in another company’s workplace, it conducted a thorough and extensive investigation.  The person was immediately removed from that workplace, and is in fact no longer employed by Federal Compress.  Federal Compress very much regrets that the allegations were not reported to it when the first incident is claimed to have occurred.

Federal Compress remains committed to treating all employees, customers, and members of the public with respect and dignity.

“So who should be held responsible?” asked reporter Sabrina Hall.

“Well, I think they’re going to talk to both of us,” said Atkinson.

The EEOC is working on a settlement with Atkinson Cotton Warehouse for the two men.

“’Hey black boy! Go over there and get my cotton,’” Harris recalled.

“Every day we were hearing the same thing. Everyday,” Mangrum added.

The men say they still live with painful memories from just trying to earn a paycheck.

Both were laid off in January, right before they filed the EEOC discrimination charge.

Atkinson says his family has been in the cotton business for more than 60 years and they have never had a discrimination charged filed against them until now.

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