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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 31, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 53
Gay miner sues company for sexual harassment
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Section One
Gay miner sues company for sexual harassment

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

A Gay coal miner has sued Spartan Mining Company, saying that co-workers in several mines have repeatedly harassed him because of his sexual orientation.

Spartan is a subsidiary of Massey Energy Company, one of the giants of Appalachian mining.

In the suit, miner Sam Hall says that he was subjected to verbal abuse, invective, lewd gestures, and physical threats by his supervisors and other miners, even after he complained to management.

'Mr. Hall is Gay and, given his gender preference, has been harassed by both management and fellow miners. Due to management's participation and provocation, most of the pervasive ongoing harassment has been caused or encouraged,' the suit states.

The suit, filed by Charleston lawyer Roger Forman in Kanawha (West Virginia) Circuit Court, names Spartan Mining and No. 2 Gas Mine foreman Randy Thomas as defendants.

Hall accuses Spartan Mining and its management of creating an oppressive and hostile work environment, and making no effort to resolve physical threats based on his sexual preference.

Hall's lawsuit seeks a court order requiring Spartan Mining's management to put a stop to the threats, intimidation, and abuse.

Hall also seeks court-ordered monitoring by the West Virginia Human Rights Commission, as well as unspecified damages for lost wages and emotional distress.

The case has been assigned to Kanawha Circuit Judge Duke Bloom.

'He wants to be a coal miner and he wants to be protected and safe,' Hall's lawyer, Roger Forman, said. 'This is a dangerous job, and you can't be preoccupied about what other people are going to do.'

Hall still works for Massey Energy Company, where he started his mining career in 2005.

He stayed with the company, transferring from one Massey subsidiary to another as mines ran out of coal and closed over the years. Through it all, his complaint says, he put up with harsh abuse from co-workers and managers.

At one mine, a co-worker allegedly spray-painted a picture depicting Hall engaged in a sexual act, and posted a sign accusing Hall of pedophilia on his car.

At another mine, Hall 'became seriously worried because the harassing slurs accelerated to violent threats, such as 'I would like to see all faggots die.'

'The sexual harassment faced by Mr. Hall is pervasive and persistent and includes acts by top management which have not been properly or effectively dealt with by Defendant Spartan Mining Company and its management,' the lawsuit says.

'He didn't want to sue anybody, he wanted to work it out,' Forman said. 'There needs to be some education of people who act that way.'

Shane Harvey, Massey Energy vice president and general counsel, called the conduct alleged by Hall 'despicable.'

'They are serious allegations, and we take them seriously. We are going to investigate it, and if any of them are true, we are going to take action swiftly to remedy the situation,' Harvey said. 'However, at this stage, they are just allegations, and we are going into the investigation with an open mind.'

Massey Energy Company is no stranger to litigation.

An explosion at its Upper Big Branch Mine on April 5, 2010, killed 29 miners. It was the worst mine disaster in 40 years.

The explosion was preceded by an appalling record of safety violations at the mine. Massey was cited by federal safety inspectors more than 1,100 times in the three years before the explosion, and more than 50 times in March 2010 alone.

The explosion led to a number of shareholder lawsuits and an industry-wide safety crackdown blamed for hiking production costs and cutting profits across the country.

An FBI probe of Massey Energy, alleging criminal wrongdoing - including criminal negligence and bribery of federal officials - is in progress.

Massey Energy was also responsible for one of the country's worst environmental disasters when, in October 2000, a containment area designed to hold liquid mine wastes failed, releasing 300 million gallons of toxic sludge in eastern Kentucky.

Lawsuits also followed this disaster.

In June 2008, the West Virginia Supreme Court ruled that the former maid of longtime Massey CEO Don Blankenship was entitled to unemployment benefits even though she walked off the job because her departure was caused by Blankenship physically assaulting her.

Blankenship resigned from his post at Massey Energy on December 3. He will reportedly be succeeded by retired Admiral Bobby Inman.

Blankenship was a bitter enemy of both federal safety regulations and the United Mine Workers union (UMW).

Both current UMW president Cecil Roberts and his predecessor Richard Trumka, now president of the AFL-CIO, have spoken out in favor of legal protections for LGBT workers.

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