Black-owned Mississippi funeral homes moving forward with discrimination lawsuit against county coroner

A federal judge has ruled that several black-owned Mississippi funeral homes can move forward with their lawsuit that alleges a local coroner discriminates against them in favor of white-owned funeral homes.

According to the Associated Press, U.S. District Judge Keith Starrett ruled Friday in favor of the plaintiffs regarding most allegations against Harrison County Coroner Gary Hargrove, dismissing only three of 13 of the suit’s original claims.

Starrett ruled the plaintiffs had sufficient evidence showing Hargrove treated funeral homes differently depending on the race of their owners. One of the plaintiffs testified that Hargrove once said “white bodies go to the white funeral homes and black bodies go to the black funeral home,” supporting the overall claims that discrimination played a role in which funeral homes would get business controlled by the county.

 

Hargrove and a Harrison County attorney deny the plaintiffs’ claims, insisting they only act based on the wishes of the deceased and/or their families. They also claim the county’s black-owned funeral homes don’t have adequate refrigeration facilities for autopsies.

“The limited exceptions occur when an autopsy is required or when a family member cannot be promptly located necessitating refrigeration of the body,” lawyer Daniel Seawell wrote in October, according to the AP. “Hargrove has no control over the sites where autopsies were performed and no control over a funeral home’s decision to provide proper refrigeration with sufficient capacity.”

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