Belleville Lube Shop Owner's Racist Talk Led to Firing, Mass Exodus, Workers Say
DeWayne Wren says he was fired from his job at a Metro East lube shop after objecting to his boss' use of the n-word and other racial slurs. And it's not just Wren's word against his former employer — not only do two other employees back up his allegations, but they say they walked off the job in protest, along with two others.
Wren worked at East End X-Press Lube in Belleville, Illinois, beginning in February 2018. But he says owner Paul Beeler's racist language quickly became an ongoing problem.
One day, Wren says, Beeler told a customer a story about his time as a milk truck driver and joked that “the black kids running to get their milk looked like monkeys.” On another occasion, Wren says, Beeler observed Wren's waistband slipping low on a hot day. "I don’t understand why black people get offended when they’re called [the n-word] when they wear their pants on their ass, because that is what they look like and right now you look like a [n-word]," he says Beeler told him.
A former employee, Ethan Haas, confirms that he also heard the exchange about Wren's pants. And Samuel Sargeant, another ex-employee, recalls Beeler making at least three racist comments during the months that he worked there.
Sargeant recalled an instance where a customer complimented Wren’s work and suggested he receive a raise. Beeler responded by saying Wren was “only the daytime manager.” Sargeant believes this comment was made to belittle Wren because he is black.
“We are only open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.; he was the only manager,” Sargeant says. “The comment was invalid.”
When Beeler would make charged or flat-out racist statements, employees tried to ignore it. According to Sargeant, when Beeler would come into the shop, employees would try to stay out of his way because they never knew what mood Beeler would be in and his actions would vary accordingly.
“You never knew which one you were going to get,” Sargeant says.
No one answered the phone at East End X-Press on Friday, and there was no way to leave a message. Beeler did not respond to several messages at his home seeking comment. Wren had heard Beeler use the n-word before, but the pants comment was the first time Beeler had used it in reference to him.
At that point, he and three other employees finally had enough. Wren and the three, who are all white, approached Beeler and his wife, Marcia, to express dissatisfaction with Beeler’s comments and ask for an apology for Wren.
According to Wren, the couple responded that Paul Beeler was not publicly being racist because the lube shop belonged to them and they could say what they wanted. Wren was fired shortly afterwards. Wren, Haas and Sargent all believe that Wren was fired due to the color of his skin.
“They fired Wren because he was black and they did not want to own up to it,” Haas said.
Beeler's actions prompted Haas, Sargent and two other employees to quit East End X-Press Lube. Haas and Sargeant say they did not want to support Beeler's actions by staying on at the shop.
“This is the 21st century, you and Paul should be better than to be saying racial slurs towards, around, or behind anyone even more importantly my good friend DeWayne who I know is a hard worker,” Sargeant wrote in a text message to Marcia Beeler he shared with the RFT. “I do not stand for that and will not let it happen to my friends.”
Wren took to Facebook to share his experience at East End X-Press Lube. “So I was an employee at this place the owner used 'nigger' towards me and around me like it’s normal so me and the entire staff confronted them about the use of the racial slurs and in return I was fired immediately,” he wrote.
He has not hired an attorney, although he says he is exploring his options.
This story, by Dustin Steinhoff, first appeared on riverfronttimes.com