Former employee alleges discrimination, ‘White Only’ clubhouse at solar energy company

A Black man says he suffered ongoing racial discrimination for months.

Vivint Solar panels. CREDIT: Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Vivint Solar panels. CREDIT: Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

A Black man has filed a lawsuit against his former employer, a national solar company, saying he faced racial harassment and that a direct manager built a “White Only” clubhouse inside one of the company’s warehouses.

Teshawn Solomon, 36, says that during his time working in Natomas, California for Utah-based Vivint Solar, he experienced ongoing and persistent incidents of racially-based harassment, according to a lawsuit filed Monday in the California Superior Court based in Sacramento County. Solomon worked for the company for nearly a year before resigning.

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While working for the company, which specializes in solar energy systems, Solomon claims he was told to “reach his black hands out” while a Sacramento-based supervisor handed him a box, in addition to being taunted with a banana. The fruit has historically been used to specifically mock and target Black people.

In one of the more jarring incidents, Soloman says his white coworkers built a cardboard “clubhouse” of sorts around their desks. They reportedly spray-painted the makeshift division with a “White Only” sign that, according to the Washington Post, remained there for two weeks.

“I was terrified,” Soloman told the Post. “The only other African American employee was usually at other warehouses, so I was alone, at night, looking over my shoulder, wondering what else could happen to me.”

Another supervisor told Soloman not to complain to human resources about the incidents, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Soloman, who has four children under the age of 6, said he wanted only “respect” and “dignity” from his coworkers as he worked to support his family.

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He began working for Vivint Solar in February 2017 but ultimately resigned in March 2018 over “the hostile work environment, brazenly racist conduct, and management’s indifference to it,” according to the lawsuit. He left two days after he was reportedly warned not to report the ongoing harassment to human resources.

A lawyer for Soloman, Corey Bennett, provided photographs to the court seemingly corroborating Soloman’s account of the “White Only” clubhouse. According to Bennett, those pictures were taken by another employee, who had similarly left the company over ongoing racial harassment.

Courtesy of Corey Bennett
Courtesy of Corey Bennett

In a statement published to the company website and shared with ThinkProgress and other news outlets, Vivint Solar CEO David Bywater wrote that the company would be “holding people accountable” and “taking decisive action” with regards to the allegations.

“I want to firmly state that Vivint Solar has a zero-tolerance policy for racial discrimination and harassment in the workplace.  Our company is built on the strength of diversity. The disturbing experience described by our former employee does not reflect the values or culture of Vivint Solar and stands in direct contradiction to our core values as a company,” Bywater wrote.

Vivint Solar conducted an internal investigation, Bywater said, resulting in the disciplining of several employees and the termination of one. He noted that an independent third party would also conduct a review of company policies and that company-wide harassment and discrimination training would also take place.

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“The allegations in the lawsuit are disturbing,” he said, while caveating that the company believes Soloman’s story represents an “isolated incident.”

“We also believe that some of the allegations in the lawsuit are inaccurate and are confident that the legal process will help bring clarity to the factual discrepancies between our internal findings and those described in the lawsuit,” Bywater said.

Soloman’s attorney told the Post that his client was put in a position where he was forced to choose between extreme harassment and losing his job, a scenario made possible by company “culture”. During his tenure with Vivint Solar, Soloman was promoted from part-time to full-time, Bennett said, demonstrating his work ethic despite a hostile environment.

Vivint Solar has not indicated whether the two supervisors named in the lawsuit are among those employees disciplined or terminated. Bennett says his client has not been able to find work since leaving Vivint Solar.