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Carpenter alleges he was barred from sites for complaining of racist incident

A Madison carpenter is suing a trio of contractors, claiming he was barred from projects for filing a job discrimination claim after a supervisor called him a series of racist slurs during an altercation on a work site.

Michael Phillips, a self-employed carpenter who is Black, filed a suit last week in federal court arguing the homebuilder Classic Custom Homes of Waunakee had barred him from working on its projects when he pursued an employment-discrimination claim over a 2018 incident at one of the company’s job sites.

In that incident, a supervisor for Arena-based Mega Concrete Construction repeatedly called Phillips a series of slurs during a dust-up that began when the supervisor found crews had left tools and other materials in his work area. Phillips later filed a discrimination charge with a state agency and hired a lawyer, causing an executive for the Waunakee homebuilder to tell its subcontractors to keep Phillips off its projects.

“This really had a big effect on my client, that stigma,” said Patrick O’Connor, an attorney for Phillips. “This is a powerful contractor that’s making these calls on the basis of his race. That really had a severe impact on his ability to keep gainful employment.”

Classic Homes of Waunakee did not return a message seeking comment on Tuesday. Neither did Precision Carpentry, also of Waunaukee, which is also named in the lawsuit.

According to Phillips’ lawsuit, Robert Gallagher, a foreman for Mega Concrete, began berating carpenters on a Classic Homes job site in DeForest when he noticed that several two-by-fours and a level had been left out in the foreman’s work zone, prompting other carpenters on the job to yell back at him.

Phillips claims he came down off a ladder in an attempt at diffusing the situation when Gallagher began calling him various racial slurs and told him he was “not wanted” at the job site. Phillips, who is several inches shorter than Gallagher, picked up a two-by-four for defense, before crews at the site separated the two.

Jeremy Nachreiner, CEO of Mega Concrete, said the two agreed to drop the matter when company managers showed up on site to discuss the altercation. Nachreiner claims Phillips swung the two-by-four, striking Gallagher in the shoulder — a claim O’Connor said is false.

The suit accuses Mega Concrete of failing to take Gallagher off the job site for four days while the company completed its work on the project. Nachreiner said the company had to investigate the incident and fired Gallagher about a week later, even though the suit says the company kept him employed for three weeks after the incident.

“You can’t just fire somebody for nothing,” Nachreiner said. “You’ve got to investigate.”

O’Connor, meanwhile, said Gallagher used a racial slur in front of his boss at Mega Concrete, Connie Noble.

“I don’t know what investigation was needed if he repeated the word in front of her,” he said.

After the incident, Phillips filed a complaint with the Madison Equal Opportunities Commission, which referred the complaint to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development’s Equal Rights Division.

According to the suit, when Phillips hired an attorney to represent him in May 2019, Bryan Sipple, who is chief operating officer for Classic Homes of Waunaukee, told the president of its subcontractor Precision Carpentry that it didn’t want Phillips on its job sites and would “terminate its business relationship” with Precision if it kept Phillips on.

After his conversation with Sipple, Jeffrey Hariu, Precision’s president, told Phillips he was going to “lose money” over his complaint, according to the suit, and kept him off Precision’s next job, a project for Classic Homes. O’Connor said the decision effectively barred Phillips for filing his discrimination complaint against Mega Concrete.

“He knows that affected his prospects, but at the same time he has put his head down and worked to provide for his family,” O’Connor said. “There was inequality there. He still carries that injury with him. And that’s why we’re going to court to get some justice for it.”

About Nate Beck, [email protected]

Nate Beck is The Daily Reporter's construction staff writer. He can be reached at (414) 225-1814 (office) or 414-388-5635 (mobile).

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