Editor's note: This story includes language that could be disturbing to readers.
- M.A. Mortenson on Tuesday fired a subcontractor's worker who admitted to tying a hangman's noose on the construction site for Meta's $1 billion Eagle Mountain, Utah, data center, shutting down work for the third time since November for potentially hate-related crimes.
- On Friday, workers at the site found a yellow rope with about six coils wrapped around the loop in an open area of the 2.4 million-square-foot facility (pictured above), according to Sgt. Spencer Cannon of the Utah County Sheriff's Office.
- Mortenson, the general contractor for the project, stopped work at the site Monday, and doubled to $100,000 a reward for information identifying the perpetrator. The worker, whose name was not released, admitted to leaving the noose on the ground.
The discovery of the noose followed other hate incidents at the project. The site, which employs about 1,500 people, was shut down for three days last fall when hateful graffiti was found in a port-a-potty declaring "Kill a n----- day 11/29." Other hate speech was later found elsewhere on site.
The male worker was an employee of Southland Industries, according to Mortenson. The noose violated Mortenson’s policies against harassment and discrimination. The company said it is considering what legal steps it might take.
"This individual voluntarily came forward and is remorseful for what occurred," said Cameron Snyder, corporate public relations lead at Mortenson, in a statement. "In accordance with our policies, the individual's employment was terminated."
Southland reiterated Mortenson's statement, but would not comment on whether it will press charges, citing policy to not discuss legal issues. Meta did not respond to a request for comment.
Following the earlier incidents, Mortenson installed cameras to monitor the restrooms, as well as a sign-in sheet, according to Cannon, the public information officer for the sheriff's office. If prosecuted, he said the incident would likely be classified as a misdemeanor, punishable by six months to a year in jail.
Ignorance not a defense
Cannon said that proving intent would likely be part of the investigative process and make it more challenging to press charges. "I'm sure that the noose was tied intentionally, but what the actual intention was, without the individual telling us, it would be hard to prove otherwise."
Federal hate crime laws can be applied to the display of nooses, and several states, including Oregon, Louisiana, Virginia, California, New York, Maryland and Connecticut have similar laws.
While Utah does not, the Department of Justice classifies the state's hate crime laws as among the most broadly applicable in the country. Utah's hate crime code targets actions taken against persons for reasons related to race, color, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability, according to the DOJ.
At the other end of the spectrum are South Carolina and Wyoming, which don't include such characteristics in their laws.
Since George Floyd's murder in May 2020, dozens of racist incidents have emerged on major commercial construction jobsites, including the hanging of nooses and hateful graffiti. Turner Construction shut down other Meta jobsites in 2020 in Ohio and Iowa, when similarly racist epithets, as well as a noose, were found.
In 2021, multiple nooses appeared on the jobsite of an Amazon fulfillment center in Connecticut, prompting general contractor RC Andersen to install cameras throughout the facility.
Nooses were also found at Merck's $105.4 million, federally funded renovation site near Durham, North Carolina, where it retrofitted a plant to manufacture Johnson & Johnson's single-dose COVID-19 vaccine in 2021.
But rarely have any suspects been identified in these types of cases.
Both Mortenson and Turner were founding members of the inaugural Construction Inclusion Week in 2021, which was launched in an effort to combat these types of incidents in the industry, while welcoming more diverse workers to the trades.
"We strongly condemn and have zero tolerance for hate, racism or bigotry in any form, and we have a clear anti-harassment, anti-discrimination policy," Mortenson's Snyder said in the statement about the latest incident. "Mortenson is committed to creating and upholding a culture of inclusion, fostering a diverse workforce, and to maintaining an environment where safety, dignity, and respect for everyone on our project is paramount."
Clarification: This article has been updated to specify that the worker was an employee of Southland Industries, not Mortenson, and to include Southland's response.