Friday, May 29
BENNINGTON — Vermont Composites and one of its employees is being sued by another former employee for alleged wrongful termination, creating a hostile work environment, and intention of emotional distress.

Slurs alleged

According to a complaint filed Aug. 11, 2008, by attorney David Fenster, Kenneth Hughes of Shaftsbury was called "Hollywood" and "Batman" on a regular basis and subjected to racial slurs and remarks by Edward Novak, a co-worker. The complaint does not give examples of racial slurs directed at Hughes, who is black.

In a deposition, Hughes said he believes he received the nickname Batman out of reference to the fictional character being referred to as "the Dark Knight," making it a reference to Hughes' race. Hughes said he was never given that explanation by anyone who called him Batman.

Hughes said he felt the nickname Hollywood was similar to being called "Boy" and noted other no other co-workers were given nicknames as it was not appropriate to do so in a professional environment.

The complaint alleges that while Hughes and Novak were discussing their children, Hughes told Novak that his children were of Asian decent.

The complaint said Novak referred to Asian women as "sluts" and "whores" and mockingly stated "love you long time."

In a summary motion for judgment filed by Novak's attorney Potter Stewart Jr., Novak denied making derogatory comments about Asian women. He denied referring to Hughes as Hollywood, but did admit to calling him Batman on a few occasions.


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According to court documents, both Novak and Hughes shared a love of comic books. Hughes kept a stack on his desk, which he read during breaks, and Novak began calling him Batman after lending him two Batman movies.

The complaint alleges that Novak was acting as Hughes' supervisor when the disparaging remarks were made. In a deposition, Hughes said he never filed a complaint with upper management at Vermont Composites.

At one point, according to the complaint, Hughes requested that he be called The Flash, if he had to have a nickname, out of reference to a band he once performed in. The Flash is also a comic book character.

According to the complaint, Hughes began working at Vermont Composites in 2005 as a mechanical designer, where he was assigned daily work by engineers such as Novak. He was terminated in 2007 and told "he was not fitting in," as a reason for his termination, according to the complaint.

The complaint states Hughes had one performance review before being terminated and was promised extra training. Such aid was never provided, according to the complaint. The complaint also alleges that Hughes was not informed of problems with his work until he was terminated.

The complaint said the initial reason for termination was work performance, but later changed to Hughes not fitting in.

Novak said in his motion that Hughes was terminated after receiving two unfavorable reviews. He said he also had no authority over Hughes' daily activities.

Hughes is asking for compensatory and punitive damages, including restitution of back pay, front pay, the value of lost benefits and damages due to emotional distress and loss of enjoyment of everyday life.

Contact Keith Whitcomb at kwhitcomb@benningtonbanner.com.