Congressman Ted Budd is fond of touting his hard work for family farms and businesses on the campaign trail.
Last year, The Washington Post reported on allegations that the Budds, including Ted, ripped off American farmers by improperly transferring millions of dollars in assets to themselves just before an agriculture business, of which Budd patriarch Richard Budd was CEO, went bankrupt.
Now, newly surfaced court documents reviewed by the INDY show that the Budds’ family janitorial business has a track record of allegedly treating its workers as poorly as the farmers who say they lost their shirts.
As the Budd Group grew into a multistate conglomerate with thousands of employees, currently worth an estimated $100 million, employees at the company dating back more than 20 years complained of discriminatory working conditions and workplace violations including wrongful termination, sexual harassment, racial discrimination, and safety breaches.
Many of these allegations overlap with the U.S. Senate candidate’s tenure at the Budd Group as an executive and owner, including a total of 13 Occupational Safety and Health Administration violations between 1998 and 2004 that racked up thousands of dollars in fines.
Budd’s campaign did not respond to the INDY’s requests for an interview.
“I’m concerned any time I see that there’s a company that has multiple lawsuits from employees claiming unsafe working conditions, harassment, discrimination, wage theft, misclassfication,” says MaryBe McMillan, the president of the North Carolina branch of the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of workers unions in the nation. “It basically covers the whole gamut of things you don’t want to see happen to workers.”
The Budd Group, according to its website, had its origins in 1963 when Budd’s father Richard bought “a struggling janitorial supply company” in Winston-Salem. The company expanded to offering janitorial, maintenance, and landscaping services and began operating in new markets with a presence today in eight states across the Southeast, including South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.
With a bachelor’s degree from Appalachian State and a master of theology from the Dallas Theological Seminary, Ted Budd joined the Budd Group in 1998, according to his LinkedIn page, or in 1999 as The Washington Post reported, as “the director of employee and community relations.” In 2000, Budd became regional vice president of the company and ran its operations in Charlotte. The next year, Budd and his brother, Joe Budd, purchased the business from their father, and Joe is currently the company’s CEO.
Ted Budd’s LinkedIn account states that, for seven years since he started at the company, he worked to “recruit talent” in Charlotte and lead a team in Florida that reduced “worker comp claims from over $500k to less than $10k in one year.”
In 1998, Budd’s first year with the company per LinkedIn, a former employee, Kevin Tong, who had been hired in June of the same year, alleged he was fired after he complained of repeated incidents of racism by his supervisor.
Court documents state the Budd Group hired Tong as a lieutenant security officer at what was then known as the Pinellas Square Mall in Pinellas Park, Florida. Tong, of Vietnamese origin, alleged in a lawsuit against the company that he endured “repeated and constant racial and national-origin based slurs” from his supervisor and branch manager, including the manager referring to Tong repeatedly as “a stupid Charlie” and making references to the Vietnam War using phrases such as “fire in the hole.” In August of that year, Tong was fired.
Tong’s complaint initially alleged wrongful termination and the creation of a hostile work environment and sought $15,000 in damages. Later, after the Budd Group answered the suit and acknowledged Tong’s and his supervisor’s employment with the company but denied all of Tong’s complaints, Tong added a third count to his complaint that alleged racial discrimination under the Civil Rights Act. Meanwhile, Tong was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer that caused delays in the filings while Tong sought treatment.
According to court documents, the Budd Group’s legal team moved to have the civil rights section of the lawsuit dismissed due to the delays while Tong received cancer treatment. The company was overruled. Ultimately, the case was settled in mediation in 2000; the details of the settlement are unknown. Tong died in 2001.
A decade later in 2011, employee Perry Davis, who worked as a police officer before joining the Budd Group’s Charlotte office as an operations manager, sued the company for wrongful termination. In court documents, Davis alleged he was praised “for doing an excellent job” and “meeting all of the company’s expectations.” One morning, Davis woke up with an uncontrollably shaking right hand; at the same time, he was also dealing with short-term memory loss.
“Company management made jokes regarding his memory, sometimes stating to other employees ‘you’re playing Perry now you can’t remember,’” court documents state.
Davis reported the shaking to the company and took leave to undergo medical testing, suspecting it might be Parkinson’s disease. Davis continued to work and was reassured by company officials “not to worry about his job.”
A few weeks later, Davis received a phone call to tell him he was fired because the company “could not accommodate his disability,” citing his inability to do client and site visits. Davis stated he never told the company he was unable to meet clients or conduct site visits. Davis was later diagnosed with a permanent neurological condition. He sued the Budd Group under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the complaint was settled out of court.
It’s not clear when Ted Budd divested of his ownership in the Budd Group. He downplayed his involvement with the company when it was reported that, in 2020, the Budd Group received a $10 million Paycheck Protection Program loan, the maximum available. According to Budd’s LinkedIn, he was studying for an MBA at Wake Forest University in 2007 and 2008. He no longer listed himself as an owner of the company in 2015, before his initial run for Congress.
But the Budd Group’s mistreatment of workers continued during Ted Budd’s tenure at the company and after he left.
In 2008, Jeremy Teabout, a former site supervisor who worked for the Budd Group in Hillsborough County, Florida, for four years, sued the company for non-payment of wages after working in excess of 40 hours per week “throughout his respective employment.” The Budd Group eventually settled with Teabout for $8,750.
In 2013, Julia Paige McEntire filed a federal lawsuit against the Budd Group for employment discrimination on the basis of sex under the Equal Employment Opportunity Act after she allegedly was sexually harassed by five of her male colleagues, including by a district manager. After McEntire reported the harassment, she stated, she was removed from the work schedule and ultimately fired. The Budd Group, in response, said it wasn’t aware of McEntire’s complaints, denied she faced a hostile work environment, and said she didn’t complain of harassment to the right person. A court dismissed McEntire’s complaint.
In a 2016 case similar to Perry Davis’s, Tammy Gates-Gean, who went on medical leave in 2014 for chronic conditions, sued the Budd Group for violating the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act for firing her after she was unable to return to work. A supervisor had refused to give her FMLA paperwork, and Gates-Gean stated she was told her job was secure. Court documents suggest Gates-Gean reached a settlement with the Budd Group in mediation.
In 2017, Donald Jones, a landscaper with the Budd Group from 2011 to 2016, sued the company under the Civil Rights Act after he was allegedly subjected to “a racially hostile work environment” as well as “harassment based on his religion” from the supervisors of his landscaping crew.
One of the supervisors “repeatedly used the ‘N’ word to African American employees; said that black people were no good; that black people should go back to Africa; and that black people were stupid mother _ _ _ _ _ _ _,” court documents state. “[The supervisor] often referred to African American employees as monkeys and animals.”
The supervisors would point to animals—dogs or horses—as the crews were riding to work, the court documents continue, and compare them to the Black crew members. They chased crew members with landscaping tools, according to the documents, and belittled them for believing in Jesus Christ. The crew was told if they didn’t like the jokes and harassment, they could quit.
The Budd Group acknowledged the racism from one of the supervisors, including use of the N-word, and that a supervisor chased a Black worker with a shovel. The company settled with Jones in mediation for an undisclosed amount.
McMillan, the AFL-CIO president, notes that Budd doesn’t have a strong record of supporting workers in Congress; he voted against bills that would specifically help working people, including the 2020 stimulus bill and the Inflation Reduction Act. Budd has said he doesn’t support raising the minimum wage.
But, McMillan says, with Budd working in management at The Budd Group, he “clearly should have been aware of the issues and should have rectified the issues before this [all] happened.
“This takes it to a whole new level to see that his family’s company so many times seemed to fail workers. I’m certainly concerned to see this at a company that’s affiliated with somebody who could potentially be a U.S. senator.”
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