Gay miner endured years of abuse

Troubled coal producer Massey Energy Co. is facing more legal problems, this time in the form of a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a gay miner.

Sam Hall’s lawsuit claims he endured years of verbal abuse and threats from co-workers and managers at several Massey mines in West Virginia. The lawsuit names Massey subsidiary Spartan Mining Co. and a Spartan foreman as defendants.

The lawsuit adds to a turbulent year for Massey. The Richmond, Va.-based company has suffered steep losses, had its longtime chief executive retire and found itself the subject of takeover rumors since an explosion killed 29 miner at its Upper Big Branch mine. The April 5 blast also prompted several shareholder lawsuits and an industrywide safety crackdown blamed for hiking costs and cutting profits across the country.

Hall’s lawsuit chiefly seeks a court order requiring Spartan’s management to put an end to the threats, intimidation, name calling and the like. And it seeks court-ordered monitoring by the West Virginia Human Rights Commission, as well as unspecified damages.

“He wants to be a coal miner and he wants to be protected and safe,” Hall’s lawyer, Roger Forman, said. “This is a dangerous job and you can’t be preoccupied about what other people are going to do.”

Hall still works for Massey, where he started his mining career in 2005. He has stayed with the company, transferring as mines ran out of coal and closed over the years. Through it all, he’s put up with harsh treatment from name-calling co-workers, according to the complaint.

“He didn’t want to sue anybody, he wanted to work it out,” Forman said. “There needs to be some education of people who act that way.”

At one mine, a co-worker allegedly spray painted a picture depicting Hall engaged in a homosexual act and attaching a sign accusing Hall of pedophilia to his car.

At another mine, Hall “became seriously worried because the harassing slurs accelerated to violent threats, such as ‘I would like to see all faggots die.'”

“The sexual harassment faced by Mr. Hall is pervasive and persistent and includes acts by top management which have not been properly or effectively dealt with by Defendant Spartan Mining Company and its management,” the lawsuit claims.

“Coal miners work hard and every miner deserves respect — without exception. With that in mind, we will investigate these allegations thoroughly and take whatever steps are needed to appropriately address this matter,” Massey general counsel Shane Harvey said.