City taking discrimination suit against Bass Pro Shops seriously

Since 2004, Memphis and Shelby County taxpayers have spent $10.5 million maintaining the abandoned Pyramid.
Since 2004, Memphis and Shelby County taxpayers have spent $10.5 million maintaining the abandoned Pyramid.

(WMC-TV) - Since 2004, Memphis and Shelby County taxpayers have spent $10.5 million maintaining the abandoned Pyramid.

When Bass Pro Shops finally signed on to lease the arena, Memphis - a city with a minority majority - learned Bass Pro's employee management practices are at the center of a court battle.

Memphis Community Development Director Robert Lipscomb says he took the recent discrimination lawsuit against Bass Pro very seriously.

"The lawsuit has always been an issue, particularly in a town where you have a lot of diversity," he said.

In September, the EEOC in Houston sued Bass Pro after a white manager reported management regularly used racial slurs, told other managers not to hire African Americans and Hispanics, and ordered employees to trail minority shoppers assuming they'd steal merchandise.

"We are always going to focus on minority participation," Lipscomb said.

Lipscomb said the city is making a concerted effort to include minorities in the Bass Pro project from start to finish.

"In the first bid process for demolition, we were able to achieve 48% minority participation, which is unheard of in Memphis," he said.

In fact, minority contractors are working on the Pyramid right now.

"They're demolishing the infrastructure. They're hauling the stuff away. Taking out the panels on the roof," Lipscomb said. "The whole job was $2 million. Very few minority firms can handle that kind of volume. So we had to break it up into smaller packages to allow minority firms to participate."

But Lipscomb said it's more challenging to include minorities in the seismic and construction phases.

"While there are not a lot of minorities in the seismic business, there are a lot of minorities in the demolition business. So that's why we have a higher percentage over there. So it's a balancing act," he said.

The city is also working on hiring minorities to work inside Bass Pro.

"Even though the store is not going to open in two years, we're already working with WIN to try to make sure that we have well-trained people ready," Lipscomb said.

WIN is currently identifying positions Bass Pro will have available and the skill sets that will be needed in order to locate people to fill the jobs.

The megastore tourist attraction opens August 2013. Meanwhile, the discrimination lawsuit is ongoing.

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