A concrete pipe below this coal ash impoundment at the Dan River Power Plant in Eden N.C. failed, releasing coal ash and ash pond water into the Dan River in 2014. Steven Alexander U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

By Bruce Henderson and Maria David, The Charlotte Observer

A former employee has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Charlotte companies that he said were hired to remove coal ash from Duke Energy facilities.

Chazz Roberts named Glenn Industrial Group Inc., Glenn Underwater Services Inc. and Glenn Underwater Services LLC in a complaint filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Charlotte. Roberts said he was hired as a diver in 2015 for the companies, which, according to their website, perform infrastructure repairs for utilities.

Roberts claims he was discriminated against because of his sex, subjected to emotional distress from “harassing and demeaning” activity, and illegally denied overtime pay. His lawsuit seeks an injunction against the companies, damages for pain, suffering and emotional distress, and back pay.

Richard Glenn, CEO of Glenn Underwater Services, said the company hasn’t received Roberts’ complaint and can’t comment on its specific claims.

“Mr. Roberts was terminated from Glenn Underwater Services Inc. for repeatedly failing to follow the company’s safety protocols in accordance with company policy,” Glenn said by email. “While the company has not reviewed the complaint, it denies these general allegations in the strongest possible terms and intends to vigorously defend itself in court against these baseless claims.”

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Roberts said he was part of a crew that removed coal ash and fly ash from power plants owned by energy companies including Duke Energy. The work sometimes involved diving into ponds to clean pipes that were clogged by ash and cleaning ash from turbines, he said.

Roberts claims Glenn forced him to perform “unsafe acts” without proper safety equipment. He says supervisors told him not to report the violations.

The lawsuit claims a supervisor also “engaged in a continuous practice of ridiculing and demeaning (Roberts) by calling him gay, using sexually explicit and derogatory remarks towards him and physically threatening him. Plaintiff was physically slapped, put in a headlock, and pushed by his supervisor.”

Roberts says he was fired after a 2016 accident at Duke’s Dan River power plant in Eden – the scene of a 2014 spill of up to 39,000 tons of ash – in which he suffered a second-degree burn on a hand. Following the spill, North Carolina legislators ordered Duke to begin closing its 32 ash ponds across the state.

Roberts claims his firing was retaliation for complaining about his alleged mistreatment.

He filed a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which the lawsuit says issued a dismissal and notice of rights in September. Such a notice is issued, according to the EEOC web site, when the agency is “unable to conclude that there is a reasonable cause to believe that discrimination occurred” but gives the complainant the right to sue.

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