vernon-marquis_web.jpgHIALEAH GARDENS — A man who worked on the construction site of a hospital has filed complaints with state and federal agencies after finding a noose hanging from a work table there.

Vernon Marquis, 21, of Tamarac, said his supervisors told him “there was nothing wrong with hanging a noose in the workplace” and that it “was no big deal.”

“I was the only black person working there. On Friday, May 30, 2008, I noticed a noose that was hung on a light over a drafting desk in the middle of the worksite that was used by most of the workers,” Marquis wrote in complaints filed with both the Florida Commission on Human Relations and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on June 9.

“On Monday, June 2, 2008 when the noose was still there after the weekend, I complained about the noose. I was told that it had been there for years.”

Marquis said he quit the job after his complaints to supervisors did not result in any action.

Representatives of the general contracting firm that oversees the construction of the St. Catherine’s Rehabilitation Hospital West facility in Hialeah Gardens – where the alleged incident took place – declined to discuss the incident.

Subcontractors on the project, including the company that directly hired Marquis, also would not comment.

“Any incident that a related firm's employee quit over would not be viewed by the Nash Organization as ‘no big deal.’ We have conducted our own internal  investigation regarding this incident, and have no comment to any organization other than those involved,” wrote Russell P. Nash, president and CFO of Williams R. Nash, Inc., the construction project’s general contractor, in an email to the South Florida Times.

"They offered Mr. Marquis an apology but refuse to understand the significance of the noose,’’ said Randy A. Fleischer, a civil rights and employment lawyer who serves on the Broward County Human Rights Board, and is representing Marquis in the incident. “To many people in the South – including those in Broward County old enough to remember lynching black folks in the street – the noose is a symbol that says, ‘We lynch people around here, and if you give us any trouble, you could be the next one hanged.’ ’’

The incident is the latest in a string of noose sightings around South Florida.

In recent months, a noose was found hanging inside a restricted area of a Miami Police Department substation. Another was displayed in the workplace at a local water treatment plant, and still another dangled from an umbrella that covered an outdoor table at Somerset Academy, a charter school in Pembroke Pines. Shortly after that, another rope fashioned into the shape of a noose was found dangling from a tree at the University School of Nova Southeastern University.

Just this week, a noose was among the symbols of hate found spray painted on the walls of buildings at the Jane Forman Tennis Academy at a park in Palmetto Bay.

In the Hialeah Gardens noose incident, Marquis is seeking action that could lead to settlements – possibly including monetary compensation – or letters authorizing him to pursue resolution in the courts via lawsuits.

St. Catherine’s Rehabilitation Hospital West is being constructed for Catholic Health Services (CHS), a social services organization that is affiliated with the Archdiocese of Miami.

An executive secretary for Catholic Health Services President Joseph M. Catania said it was the first that office had heard of the incident, and therefore could not immediately respond, but intended to do so after gathering the facts.

Trillium Construction Services, a national staffing firm based in Wisconsin, hired Marquis on May 9 to work for an air conditioning subcontractor named Extreme Heating and Cooling, also of Wisconsin.

Miami-based William R. Nash, Inc., the general contractor that specializes in medical facility construction, hired Extreme Heating and Cooling for the project.

Despite Nash’s statement of an internal investigation, Marquis told the South Florida Times that he knows nothing of any investigation, and no one has ever contacted him.

The noose, he said, hung from a lamp over a workstation table located on the construction site, in plain view of everyone who worked there.

“After I complained, I was told it was no big deal, and everyone started to treat me differently,” he said. “When I returned to work that Monday, it was still there after almost a week, and I didn’t feel comfortable, so I quit.”

Marquis also said that even though supervisors at Trillium Construction Services promised to give him another work assignment, he has not heard from them since, and remains out of work. This, he contends, is retaliation for his complaining and finally quitting.

Before he left, a worker for a different company on the job site took the noose down and handed it to him, Marquis said.

Repeated calls to Trillium Construction Services were not returned to the newspaper, and executives with Extreme Heating and Cooling offered few explanations, but no denials.

“I haven’t really seen any write ups on it, and right now our HR [human resources] person is handling that and she’s not in at the moment,” explained Don Hearn, secretary of
Extreme Heating and Cooling, when contacted at the company’s corporate offices in Wisconsin.

Hearn assured the South Florida Times that someone from the company would get back to the newspaper, but that did not happen as of press time.

Photo by Elgin Jones. Vernon Marquis holds the noose he found hanging in his workplace.