Raleigh County man wins legal challenge against staffing agency

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A Raleigh County man was awarded $4 million after a federal judge determined a temporary staffing agency purposefully failed to help the person secure a job due to their race.

U.s. District Judge Frank Volk

U.S. District Judge Frank Volk of the federal district court for West Virginia’s southern district ordered Lightning Contract Services Inc. and operations manager Bennie Milam to pay James Cox over related damages and attorney’s fees.

According to court documents, Cox, a Black man, began visiting the company’s Beckley office in March 2014 in search of employment. Cox had 12 years of coal mining experience and possessed all necessary certifications. Milam informed Cox there were no jobs available at the time.

Cox continued contacting Lightning Contract Services about positions for more than two years, in which Milam said multiple times there were no available positions for Cox. Court documents state many of Cox’s white coal miner colleagues were getting work through the company.

One incident notes Milam telling a white friend of Cox of work opportunities. The friend told Cox about available positions in the parking lot of Lightning Contract Services, but Milam told Cox about no open jobs when he re-entered the building.

Charles Jamal Hoskins, another Black man with coal mining experience, had a similar experience with Milam and Lightning Contract Services.

Cox contacted a different staffing agency in January 2017, and the company had a job for Cox within three days.

“Mr. Cox worked for International Coal Group for approximately one year, beginning in January of 2017,” court documents state. “He was laid off a year later in an apparent reduction in force. He would not have been laid off, however, had he been hired back in 2014 inasmuch as termination is based on seniority.”

Cox sought damages for seven years of unemployment. Volk awarded Cox $800,000 in compensatory damages, $3.2 million in punitive damages and $11,025 in attorney’s fees.

Cox was represented by Mark A. Atkinson of the Charleston law firm Atkinson & Polak.

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