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Detroit man sues Little Caesar's Arena construction firm, alleges "Mississippi-style racism"

An aerial view of Little Caesar's Arena.
Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio

An African American carpenter says he suffered racial discrimination and harassment on the job during the construction of Detroit’s Little Caesar’s Arena.

Harold Wilson is suing Hardman Construction, the contractor he spent just two days working for in 2015.

Wilson says he had trouble getting hired, despite a need for skilled tradesmen and Detroit resident workers. A city ordinance requires that 51% of all employees working on major development projects in Detroit be city residents.

When he did get hired, Wilson says co-workers were openly hostile, and subjected him to bullying and harassment tactics like telling him he couldn’t drink out of a water cooler for employees.

Wilson says a supervisor also showed disdain for the city’s resident employee quotas.  

“He was telling me that we shouldn’t get any preference treatment, and that this will not be that type of job site,” Wilson said. “Later on that day, I was let go.”

Wilson says he was never given a reason for his dismissal. His attorney, George Washington, calls it “a really open case of racial discrimination.”

“This is just Mississippi-style racism in the city of Detroit, the heart of the city, on a city-funded project,” Washington said. “It’s just outrageous.”

Hardman is one of dozens of Little Caesar’s construction contractors who were fined for not employing enough Detroiters. The city has worked to boost skilled trades training programs to fill what employers call a shortage of qualified Detroit workers.

Wilson says he told Detroit’s City Rights, Inclusion and Opportunity office about his experience, but the city took no action. That office is responsible for monitoring development projects to ensure contractors are complying with the city’s resident employment quotas.

John Roach, a spokesman for Mayor Mike Duggan, said the city would not comment on a lawsuit in which it’s not named. The civil rights office did confirm that it has met with Wilson “numerous times about various complaints he has had over the years,” and remains “strident” about ensuring that contractors are hiring Detroit residents.

Hardman Construction attorney Thomas Vincent said the company “vehemently denies” all of Wilson’s allegations, but otherwise will “defend itself in trial court, not in the press.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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