HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A Hawaiian Airlines employee has filed a racial harassment and discrimination suit against the carrier, saying that his life was threatened by colleagues who placed a noose and a lynching rope near his locker.
Timothy Degrate, who is black, alleges the incident happened in August 2016.
"What that means to me, murder, death, intimidation," Degrate tells Hawaii News Now. "It was just a hostile environment to work in."
Degrate said it started with a few derogatory comments years ago, then co-workers started harassing him.
He says he suffered psychological trauma as a result.
"Whenever there's a lynch rope and a noose toward a black person, immediately we consider that a death threat there's no doubt about it," said Degrate's attorney, Elizabeth Fujiwara.
When Degrate found the noose on the locker next to his, he says he immediately knew it was for him.
"I'm the only black person there," Degrate says it was on the neighboring locker because his locker was broken and nothing could hang from it.
The employee who uses that neighboring locker is now a witness for Degrate, saying in the complaint that he heard employees make racially insensitive comments to Degrate and believes the noose was meant for him.
In a statement, Hawaiian Airlines denied the allegations of workplace violence, but said it has taken steps to bolster staff training.
"We are sorry that Mr. Degrate felt disrespected in any way," said Ann Botticelli, senior vice president of corporate communications at Hawaiian Airlines, in an emailed statement.
"An independent investigation of Mr. Degrate's allegations was unable to verify actions by specific individuals as described by Mr. Degrate, and we vigorously deny all allegations of workplace violence. Having said that, because Hawaiian Airlines is committed to maintaining a fair and safe work environment we have taken additional efforts to improve workplace interaction at our Kona station, including mandatory staff-wide training on communicating and interacting with respect."
Degrate has been with Hawaiian Airlines since 2000, and is a lead line service supervisor at the Kona International Airport.
He is seeking damages and attorneys' fees.