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JEA Employee Emails Containing Racial Stereotypes Violate Company Policies

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JEA

JEA is launching an internal investigation into inappropriate emails circulated by its employees.

The emails surfaced at the same time the federal government is looking into Jacksonville’s public utility for alleged racial discrimination in its hiring practices.

The emails from 2007 contained offensive jokes and were sent and forwarded using JEA work emails. At least one of the employees who forwarded the messages was a JEA supervisor.

“We want to make sure that employees understand that those things aren’t funny because they are offensive to others,” JEA Chief Human Resources Officer Angie Hiers said. “They’re not things that should be passed around via email or even joked about in the workplace.”

One email with the subject line “Father’s Day in the Hood” plays into the stereotype of black absentee fathers. It contains an image of several black men running away from a black child, who holds a sign asking for his daddy.

The second message’s subject line is “The Last Child Support Check.” It’s a story told in first person using broken English reminiscent of slave narratives. At the bottom is a picture of an open-mouthed black man, missing teeth, shocked he’d been paying for a child who wasn't his, after all.

MORE | See the message in the email below

Hiers said the emails violate the company’s communications policy, which prohibits using work email for personal entertainment and discrimination of any kind. Hiers adds these policies, along with sensitivity training, is required curriculum for every employee.

“Everybody has the right to come to work and to feel valued and respected while they’re here. One of our core values here at JEA is respect,” she said.

JEA employee Al Johnson recently alluded to the emails, which he called blatantly racist, on WJCT’s First Coast Connect. He added that they’re examples of a cultural problem at JEA.

“There’s definitely a systemic issue and JEA doesn’t want to address it,” Johnson said. “I think the way they’ve dealt with it in the past is they deal with each individual case, but we want to bring more light to this so it’s not an individual thing. It can be looked at for exactly what it is and that’s systemic discrimination.”

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Johnson and four other current JEA employees filed complaints with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging they were routinely passed up for promotions because they’re African-American.

JEA doesn’t comment on the pending investigations, but HR head Hiers said diversity is a top priority of the largest community-owned utility in the Southeast.

“One of the things we’ll plan to do upon identifying all of the employees that might’ve been recipients or part of the email chain is to determine if they really and truly are still JEA employees, and each of these employees will have conversations with labor relations and human resources as a part of this overall investigation,” she said.

Public records obtained by WJCT show at least five of the employees who forwarded the emails are still employed at JEA, at least one of them was promoted since 2007.

Hiers said the emails got past the company’s filters because they didn’t contain any specific terms flagged by JEA’s system.

One of the emails read:

"Today be my baby girl 18th birthday. I be so glad that dis be my last child support payment! Month after month, year after year, all dose payments! So I call my baby girl, LaKeesha, to come to my house and when she et here, I say, “Baby girl, I want you to take dis check over to yo momma house and tell her dis be the last check she ever be gettin’ from me, and I want you to come back and tell me the ‘spression on yo mama face.’”

So, my baby girl take the check over to her momma. I be anxious to hear what she say, and bout the ‘spression on her face. Baby girl walk through the door, I say, “Now what yo momma say ‘bout that?” She say to tell you that “you ain’t my daddy … and watch the ‘spression on yo face!!!”

Editor's note: These images may be offensive to some viewers. To view the images included in the emails click here and here.

Reporter Ryan Benk can be reached at rbenk@wjct.org, at (904) 358 6319 or on Twitter@RyanMichaelBenk.