Postmaster DeJoy’s First Company Was Plagued By Claims of Racism, Harassment, and Abuse

Louis DeJoy spent 30 years as the CEO of New Breed, where, he says, he built the business skills needed to save the post office. Employment lawsuits show the company was repeatedly accused of racist and sexist harassment and wage theft.

Aug 19 2020, 7:30pmSnap

The swastikas started to appear in 2006, according to the lawsuit, soon after the man’s co-worker called him a “nigger” and “mayate,” a Spanish slang term for the same word. First, a swastika made out of magnets near his work station; then, one burned into a tool he used every day.

By 2009, Sterling Davis was suing the employer where he’d been, he claimed, subjected to racialized harassment and intimidation: New Breed Logistics, a supply chain and distribution company with warehouses across the United States, and its headquarters in North Carolina. Its CEO was Louis DeJoy, currently the Postmaster General.

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While DeJoy has touted his 30 years at New Breed as a business success story, employment lawsuits brought by Davis and a multitude of other workers at New Breed paint a troubling picture of the workplace culture there. Davis, who is Black and worked at New Breed as a repair technician, said in court filings that he was subjected to relentless abuse from a co-worker, while their joint supervisor did nothing.

“I’m not your babysitter,” Davis alleged the supervisor said to him and the man who was harassing him, after seeing the magnet swastika. “You need to work your problems out.” At a shop meeting, both men and their coworkers were told to “shape up,” and that the workplace “was not the place for that kind of thing.” The two men were jointly admonished to “get along.”

In April, Davis said in the filing, the two men were both suspended while an investigation was conducted. On April 22, Davis learned that management couldn’t decide who was at fault, and that both men were fired. Davis’ lawsuit was resolved in 2009; his attorney said it was a confidential matter that he could not discuss.

Do you know anything about New Breed or Louis DeJoy we should know? Contact the reporters at anna.merlan@vice.com, laura.wagner@vice.com, or tim.marchman@vice.com.

These details come from one of more than a dozen employment-related lawsuits filed against New Breed Logistics by former employees and contractors over the years, including one brought by the federal Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, or EEOC. The Daily Beast reported on the EEOC complaint in May, and the treatment of workers at XPO Logistics, the company that bought New Breed and where DeJoy was CEO of its supply line business, was covered in a 2018 story by the New York Times. But an examination of the civil lawsuits against New Breed adds another layer to the portrait of how workers have said they were treated under DeJoy.

The complaints in these cases describe extreme racial and sexual harassment, claims that workers were fired after being injured or becoming ill, and management that seemed indifferent where it wasn't actively malicious. In one case, a jury awarded $1.5 million to several women the EEOC said were subjected to “unwelcome sexual touching and lewd, obscene and vulgar sexual remarks” by a Memphis warehouse supervisor and to a man who was fired after objecting to the harassment. According to the lawsuit, New Breed supervisor James Calhoun told one woman he wanted to “eat her pussy,” told another that he was “gone fuck you good” before warning her that if anyone went to HR they would be fired, and told a third that he wanted her to “suck his dick.”

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Many of the lawsuits were settled privately, on terms covered by confidentiality agreements. In some instances, those agreements prevented anyone involved from even acknowledging that there had been a settlement, according to sources with direct knowledge of the cases. In normal circumstances they would remain obscure and forgotten, especially because New Breed itself no longer exists, having been sold to another distribution company, XPO, in 2014. They are newly relevant, though, because Louis DeJoy, the longtime CEO of New Breed, has gone on to bigger things. The major Republican donor was appointed Postmaster General of the United States Postal Service in May of this year. He has, famously, wasted no time in radically reorganizing its business.

DeJoy’s critics, including Democrats in Congress, claim he’s weakening the Postal Service, throwing it into chaos designed to make voting by mail impossible in time for the presidential election. Donald Trump has openly said that he’s intentionally withholding money from the USPS to make it more difficult for them to execute mail-in voting in November.

“They need that money in order to make the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots,” Trump said on Fox Business recently, explaining why he was starving the USPS of funds. “But if they don’t get those two items, that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting, because they’re not equipped to have it.” By August 18, faced with a massive national backlash, DeJoy said any new changes to the USPS would be postponed until after the election. (As Motherboard has reported, that’s probably not going to happen.)

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DeJoy’s defenders—and the man himself—say he has the business acumen needed to save the post office. “DeJoy’s vast and relevant expertise presents a fresh opportunity to reform and transform the USPS,” exulted a pro-business advocacy group, the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council. “He brings 35 years of private sector know-how, having built New Breed Logistics from a 10-employee family-owned business to a sophisticated and technology-oriented logistics company with 9,000 employees.”

New Breed, in other words, is an integral part of Louis DeJoy’s success story, trotted out to show his business acumen and the bona fides he possesses that will enable him to turn the post office around. In glowing profiles, DeJoy has touted his success after taking over New Breed, which his father founded in Long Island in 1968 as a trucking company. DeJoy began working for the company in 1982, and became CEO the following year, according to a bio on the website for his family foundation.

“That attitude that you are the most important person is self-destructive,” DeJoy told the News and Record, a North Carolina newspaper, in 2015, referring to the then-hit TV show The Apprentice and its star, Donald Trump. If he were on the show, DeJoy said at the time, “I’d be fired.” His business, the Record reported, “relies on a team of people, many of whom have been with him for a decade.”

Allegations in court filings, though, reflect part of what his vaunted private sector know-how consists of. In their totality, the claims contend that New Breed, in various times and at various places, fostered environments where harassment, discrimination, and deeply inappropriate work behavior were accepted. Workers in these cases made allegations about everything from wage theft to being fired for filing a false workers compensation claim after a paper cut sustained on the job led to an amputation.

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XPO Logistics declined to comment after being provided a detailed list of questions by Motherboard. DeJoy did not respond to a request for comment submitted through the USPS.

New Breed's issues with labor were deeply rooted. In 1997, the National Labor Relations Board, or NLRB, found that the company had engaged in unfair labor practices at the Compton Army Terminal in Compton, California, where it was a subcontractor. The NLRB found that in 1994, when New Breed won a bid to take over the Army Terminal from the then-current contractor, Maersk, it went out of its way to avoid re-hiring the unionized workforce then employed at the facility. The company employed extreme secrecy to make sure that unionized Maersk employees weren’t even aware of the hiring process:

It is uncontested that New Breed recruited new employees by placing anonymous advertisements in local newspapers. Responses were then screened, and promising applicants were interviewed at a local hotel. New Breed did not post notices of job openings at the army terminal;  did not tell Maersk employees of the interview process; and did not inform the Unions of the hiring process. As a result, no Maersk employees filed employment applications with New Breed, or requested interviews.

In 1995, an administrative law judge recommended to the NLRB that New Breed be ordered to “reinstate the Maersk employees to their former positions, recognize and bargain with the Unions, and restore the status quo ante with respect to wages and terms and conditions of employment.” The NLRB also found that the company had specifically acted with “anti-union animus.” As the Daily Beast reported in May, testimony from New Breed employees indicated that DeJoy was personally involved in the hiring process and its end-run around the union. New Breed unsuccessfully appealed the decision in the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeal.

The anti-union sentiments identified by the NLRB are significant for DeJoy’s current job. The USPS is a highly unionized workforce, with workers represented through the American Postal Workers Union (for facility employees) and the National Association of Letter Carriers. (The APWU didn’t respond to a request for comment from Motherboard; it publicly opposed the policies DeJoy attempted to implement.)

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The NLRB case wasn’t New Breed’s last run-in with a federal agency. In September 2010, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued New Breed on behalf of four former employees, saying that a supervisor at the company's facility in Memphis, Tennessee sexually harassed three women and that the company fired them for complaining about it. The lawsuit also said that New Breed fired a male employee because he tried to oppose the sexual harassment. (The plaintiffs in the case could not be reached for comment.)

A temp agency called Select Staffing placed Tiffany Pete at the facility in April 2008. There, she worked under superviser James Calhoun, who could not be reached for comment, in the receiving department. The lawsuit said that Calhoun “talked about Ms. Pete’s ‘big butt’ and how good it looked in her jeans. He licked his lips and said that he wanted ‘to eat her pussy.’ He told her daily that he ‘wanted to fuck her.’” Pete, according to the lawsuit, was warned by other women that she would be fired if she complained.

After about a month, the lawsuit said, Pete called New Breed's anonymous hotline to report that Calhoun was harassing female workers, and then followed up. In the second call, she revealed her identity. The lawsuit said that not only did New Breed not investigate Pete’s claims or interview any women who worked with Calhoun, it terminated her without notice or explanation, a mere four days after her first call to the hotline. After she was fired, Pete provided a written statement to the temp agency reporting what had happened and describing Calhoun’s sexual harassment, the lawsuit said. The temp agency sent it to New Breed; only then did the company investigate and fire Calhoun.

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Capricious Pearson was also placed by Select Staffing at the New Breed's Memphis facility in April 2008, and also worked in the receiving department under Calhoun, the lawsuit said. According to the filing, Calhoun “told her she owed him because he got her hired. She also heard on that day that [he] fired people who did not give him what he wanted. Within her first week, Calhoun said to her and another young lady, ‘I want to fuck, I want to fuck.’” The lawsuit said that he became more explicit, saying, ““I’m gone fuck you good,” and asking her when they were going to “hook up” and on one occasion, when Pearson was feeling sick, grabbing his crotch and saying, “I got something to knock that out.” Calhoun also touched Pearson inappropriately, “rubbing her thigh and her butt, and blowing air down her neck,” per the filing.  Pearson complained directly to Calhoun and asked him to stop; he responded by telling her that “If anyone goes to [the HR Director] on me, they will be fired.” Pearson was fired on the same date as Pete, the lawsuit said. Pearson also submitted a written complaint to Select Staffing, which sent it to New Breed Logistics.

Jacqueline Hines also worked under Calhoun in the receiving department. The lawsuit said that “on a daily basis” Calhoun told Hines how “he would ‘love to eat her pussy,’ ‘fuck her,’ ‘give her money,’ and he wanted her to ‘suck his dick.’” Hines complained to Calhoun and told him to stop; within a week, the lawsuit said, she was fired.

Christopher Partee worked in the Memphis facility, also under Calhoun, from October 2007 through May 2008, first as a temp worker and then as a permanent employee, per the filing. The lawsuit said that Partee witnessed Calhoun make sexual comments to the female employees, and that he said as much when interviewed by New Breed's regional human resources manager. After Partee spoke to HR, the suit said, Calhoun falsely accused him of stealing company time, and Partee was fired without an investigation.

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According to a 2017 Associated Press article, “New Breed claimed that Partee was suspended for clocking in overtime hours without authorization. It tried to argue that the human resources official who suspended him did not know he had agreed to back up Pete’s complaint. In the end, EEOC provided evidence the official knew Pete had named Partee as a witness.”

In 2013, a jury, after a seven-day trial, found in favor of the EEOC on both the sexual harassment and retaliation charges and awarded the plaintiffs $1.5 million. New Breed appealed the verdict and mounted vigorous defenses, including the arguments that New Breed had no knowledge of the complaints before the workers were fired and that Hines was fired for attendance reasons, not for complaining about Calhoun’s harassment. In April 2015, a federal appeals court affirmed the $1.5 million settlement.

The EEOC case was not the only one in which a New Breed worker claimed they were fired after reporting harassment to human resources.

In 2010, a woman named Sulema Garza, who worked as a battery charger at a New Breed facility in Texas and could not be reached for comment, filed suit against the company and a coworker who, according to court filings, "drew and circulated drawings of Sulema with a penis and with a vagina and pinched Sulema causing Sulema to bruise." Three people, the filings said, "would pretend to strip and grab each other's breasts, groins, and buttocks in front of Sulema and would tease her. Sulema reported the harassment to her supervisor," the filings said, but it did not stop; one of the offending coworkers "would cause to be placed on Sulema's backside paper 'stickies' with the words 'Sexy' and 'Baby' written on them."

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According to the filing, Garza's supervisor, who could not be reached for comment, said "'they are not listening' or words to that effect" and asked Garza to take the complaint to HR; after she did so, she was first suspended without pay and subsequently fired. An HR employee named Denise Buntaine, asked in a deposition about Garza's firing, said: "Everything was pretty much blessed out of headquarters. You did nothing without headquarters knowing about it."

“You did nothing without headquarters knowing about it."

In December 2011, according to court filings, the parties reached a settlement. Garza's lawyer, reached by Motherboard, said he would need to research the case to comment on it and would call when he had done so; he had not done so by press time.

One consistent theme in suits against New Breed involved workers claiming they were fired after being injured on the job or becoming sick.

In a 2010 case, a woman named Jeanette Pierson sued for retaliatory discharge. According to Pierson’s complaint, she sustained a paper cut at work, which she showed to her supervisor; the cut soon became infected, and in early April, she went to the emergency room and was hospitalized into May, with the infection becoming so severe that part of her ring finger had to be amputated.

In mid-May, per the lawsuit, she received a letter from New Breed stating that she was being terminated “due to violation of company policy.” When she called to ask what policy she had violated, the suit said, the company alleged that she’d made a worker’s compensation claim for a “non-work related” injury. Pierson countered that she’d gotten permission to file her first doctor’s visit under a workers compensation claim, that New Breed placed her on medical leave themselves, and that her firing was clearly retaliation for filing a workers compensation claim.

The parties agreed to dismiss the case, having resolved the dispute. Jonathan Bobbitt, who represented Pierson, told Motherboard that he could not comment on the case, but that the record showed what the record showed, and that if the outcome was vague, that was purposeful.

In 2012, alleged a 2016 suit, a man named Julian Perez was injured on the job moving a rolling cart to an elevated pallet. Perez worked for New Breed at its location at the Corpus Christi Army Depot, where the company was a subcontractor for another company, Patricio Enterprises. (Many of New Breed’s locations worked this way, as a nesting doll of contracts and subcontracts; that’s not unusual for shipping and logistics firms.)

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According to court documents, Perez’s doctor said he would have been able to continue working with some restrictions. Perez returned to work on August 15, 2012, with a letter of employment from New Breed in hand laying out those restrictions.  After only a few hours, he was escorted off the premises and told his employment was terminated; he later learned, according to the documents, that New Breed and Patricio Enterprises had falsely told the military contractor who ran the Army Depot that he’d shown up to the site of his own accord, not because his employment had been reinstated. Perez first filed a complaint with the Texas Workforce Commission and then the EEOC. According to his complaint in civil court, New Breed cooperated with the EEOC on a possible settlement until the company “unexpectedly withdrew its cooperation” because it felt the penalties the EEOC was demanding were “too harsh compared to the severity of its violation.” The case was settled out of court in 2018, on terms that are not part of the public record. Perez and his attorney could not be reached for comment.

In 2013, a man named Fort Wiseman filed suit against New Breed in Mississippi. He had worked for the company for about three and a half years, according to his suit, with his main job being to move trailers into a bay for unloading. In April 2012, per the suit, he took a week of medical leave to deal with an artery issue, and a white contractor—Wiseman is Black—was brought in, making more money than Wiseman. After his return from leave, Wiseman accidentally destroyed a door—a common occurrence, he told Motherboard—and was subsequently fired. The suit claimed that this could not have been the reason for his firing because the contractor who had filled in for him had destroyed two doors without being fired, and was fired only after destroying a third door. The real issue, the suit claimed, was that when Wisemen "took medical leave, he incurred an approximately $2,000.00 in medical bill. Defendant did not pay the bill, and apparently regarded recurring medical expenses as a detriment." The suit asked for actual damages for lost income, liquidated damages because of violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act, damages for lost income, mental anxiety, medical expenses, and race discrimination.

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"There was a NDA in the case," Wiseman's lawyer, Jim Waide, told Motherboard. "The way I read it, even the fact of the settlement, I can't even say it was settled. It's a strict confidentiality agreement, is all I can say."

"The work was alright when I worked there," said Wiseman, "but I think they were wrong for firing me for knocking a door off."

Wiseman's wasn't the only case where allegations of different kinds of discrimination intersected.

A worker named Ana Ramos sued in 2013. Ramos, a Spanish-speaking legal resident from Mexico who began working at the Memphis warehouse facility in 2007, was fired in 2012 when she asked for translation assistance before signing a workers compensation form written in English, the lawsuit said. She had injured her shoulder on the job and the HR manager who was handling her workers compensation claim, the suit said, refused to provide a translation or allow Ramos to consult her brother about the workers comp form; the HR manager then took her badge and subsequently issued a separation notice that Ramos had abandoned her job. “When Ms. Ramos refused to allow the Defendant to take advantage of her lack of knowledge of employment practices, it terminated her,” the lawsuit said. “Defendant would not have attempted to exploit an English-speaking, native-born American employee by asking him to sign a document that he didn’t understand or terminating him for refusing to sign.”

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The parties filed a joint stipulation of dismissal in 2014.

In 2012, a former New Breed employee, a shipping supervisor named Reginald Franklin, filed an EEOC complaint alleging discrimination on the basis of race and age, and then sued the company after receiving a “right to sue” notification from the EEOC. The lawsuit said he was unfairly fired and replaced with a younger white man, despite receiving satisfactory and favorable work evaluations since he began at the company in 2007. The lawsuit alleged that New Breed failed to pay Franklin the minimum overtime rate, in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The two parties reached a settlement in 2014, the terms of which were not disclosed.

"I cannot discuss the settlement because we got a nondisclosure agreement," said his lawyer, Forrest Craig. "It was a mutual settlement."

"I cannot discuss the settlement."

Franklin wasn’t the only employee to sue New Breed for wage theft. In 2012, a Texas woman named Blanca Sanchez filed a lawsuit saying that she’d been hired at New Breed as a “planner/scheduler” in 2007, and paid an hourly rate plus extra for overtime above 40 years a week. In 2008, Sanchez alleged, she was “reclassified” and paid only a salary, even though she regularly worked in excess of 40 hours a week. Just as abruptly, she said in court filings, she was made “unexempt” in 2012 and given overtime again. Court records show that Sanchez’s lawyer, Brett Myers, allowed New Breed to have seven time extensions to answer her complaint; the parties filed a joint stipulation of dismissal in August 2013. Myers, who didn't recall how the case was settled, told Motherboard it was a fairly straightforward case, based on his memories; Sanchez, he said, was a "very nice lady who believed she was owed money."

In a 2010 employment discrimination suit a Memphis woman brought herself after receiving a right to sue notice from the EEOC, and which was ultimately dismissed years later, she listed "Race, religion, retaliation, age" as the circumstances under which she was discriminated against. On a form asking what she wanted to court to direct the defendant to do, she wrote, "That discrimination acts ends, that intimidation end."

The end of New Breed did not represent an end to claims from workers against companies where DeJoy held a high position. In 2018, the New York Times covered the story of how multiple pregnant workers at a warehouse in Memphis run by XPO suffered miscarriages after, they said, supervisors disregarded doctor’s notes recommending they not lift heavy boxes. The problems spanned companies: Four women miscarried when the warehouse was owned by New Breed, according to the Times, and two more after XPO acquired the company.

“It was the worst thing I have ever experienced in my life,” one of those women, Erica Hayes, told the Times.

DeJoy has made it clear that he views “significant” changes as central to his goals at the USPS. In a public statement issued on August 18, after he promised to pause some of his more drastic changes until after the election, DeJoy said, “I came to the Postal Service to make changes to secure the success of this organization and its long-term sustainability. I believe significant reforms are essential to that objective, and work toward those reforms will commence after the election.”

But the track record of alleged abuse, sexism, racialized harassment, wage theft, and other offenses against ordinary workers is disturbing. And as the USPS grapples with an uncertain future, the most urgent question, perhaps, is whether DeJoy’s vision will match what workers have said is lurking in his company’s past.

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