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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Former Wall Street Journal editor may pursue racial bias case

Tue Aug 18, 2009

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A former Wall Street Journal editor may pursue a racial discrimination case against her one-time employer, after alleging that she was fired because she is black, a federal judge has ruled.

Judge Deborah Batts of the federal district court in Manhattan said a juror could conclude that the race of Carolyn Phillips, the paper's first black assistant managing editor, was "at least one motivating factor" in decisions leading to her November 2002 dismissal after two decades at the paper.

"Plaintiff has produced sufficient circumstantial evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact as to whether intentional discrimination influenced the adverse employment decisions at issue," possibly violating federal and state law, Batts said in her 45-page order dated Monday.

Batts' ruling sets the stage for a possible trial. The judge rejected Phillips' separate claim alleging discrimination on the basis of disability. Phillips originally sought compensatory damages and $5 million of punitive damages.

The Journal at the time was owned by Dow Jones & Co and is now owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

"Dow Jones does not discriminate, period," Dow Jones spokeswoman Ashley Huston said. "We are gratified the court dismissed the disability claim, and we expect to prevail on the other claim at trial."

Phillips' lawyer did not immediately return a request for comment.

According to Monday's order, Phillips had regularly received positive performance reviews as well as five merit pay increases during her tenure, but would come to feel marginalized after becoming the Journal's head of recruitment.

The judge said a juror could find that race may have been one factor behind possible dissatisfaction with Phillips' job performance expressed by the Journal's managing editor and a deputy managing editor, Paul Steiger and Daniel Hertzberg.

She also said a juror could find that those editors preferred two white candidates for various responsibilities over Phillips because of her race and that Steiger failed to assign Phillips new duties because he preferred Caucasian staff.

According to the order, Phillips also alleged that Steiger made comments to her that were or could be racial in nature.

In one such alleged instance, Phillips said he told her he felt like a "black man in Beverly Hills" after being covered with soot and ash following the September 11 attacks that ruined the Journal's New York office. Steiger contested that he ever made the comment, according to the order.

Steiger, now chief executive of the nonprofit ProPublica, said in an interview on Tuesday: "Carolyn Phillips was not discriminated against on account of her race while at the Journal. I expect a jury, when it hears all the testimony, will agree."

Hertzberg recently joined Bloomberg News as senior editor-at-large. Bloomberg spokeswoman Judith Czelusniak declined to comment.

The case is Phillips v. Dow Jones & Co, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan), No. 04-5178.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

UPS sued for back wages by Calif. employee

By Rachel Tobin Ramos

She claims UPS didn’t pay her for regularly working 10 to 20 hours per week overtime. Meza makes a salary of $51,000 annually.

Her lawyer, Steven L. Wittels, said she works in sales but does not manage people. He said her job was classified as managerial to avoid overtime pay requirements. “That’s how companies in this day and age try to evade their responsibilities under the wage and hour laws,” he said.

Wittels thinks the potential class includes about 5,000 account managers. Meza is the only plaintiff so far, he said.

UPS spokeswoman Susan Rosenberg said she couldn’t comment on the suit but added, “We value the account managers in our sales organization. There is a defined sales compensation structure. We believe they are [properly] classified as exempt and not subject to overtime.”

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Court: SC lawsuit against Nucor Steel can proceed


COLUMBIA, S.C. — A federal appeals court has revived a discrimination lawsuit brought by black employees who claim they worked in a racially hostile environment at a Nucor Steel mill in South Carolina, attorneys said Tuesday.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in an Aug. 7 decision that the case against the Charlotte-based manufacturer can go forward with class-action status. It has been sent back to federal district court and will be tried in Charleston, S.C.

"While this class certification doesn't mean they've won ... the decision is a victory," lead attorney Robert L. Wiggins Jr. said in a statement. "Being involved in this case as a plaintiff has taken courage, but these individuals believed that it was important to change the horrific situation at Nucor for all black employees, and not just themselves."

The lawsuit charged that racial slurs and monkey noises were broadcast over the radio system at the company's Huger mill. The plaintiffs — seven black former and current Nucor employees — also claim that racially charged e-mails depicting blacks with nooses around their necks were circulated, that some employees used racial slurs when referring to black workers and that the mill discriminated against blacks in making promotions.

Nucor executives on Tuesday called the claims "absolutely false" and unsupported. The company said it will file an appeal by the end of the week.

"Unfortunately, anybody can make any claim," said Giff Daughtridge, a Nucor Steel vice president and general manager. "These allegations are false. They're not supported by evidence. They are not supported by the record that is in the court. So, we are very confident about how the appeal is going to turn out."

There is no radio broadcasting system at the company and no evidence to support claims that there was an environment of racial hostile or that blacks weren't promoted because of discrimination, Daughtridge said.

The suit was originally filed in December 2003 in Arkansas, connected with claims of discrimination against other Nucor facilities. But the South Carolina claims were separated and transferred in 2004, attorneys said.

In its order, the appeals court said the claims "speak for themselves."

"Once, an employee held up a noose and told a black co-worker that it was for him," the order reads.

The three-judge panel also noted that the plaintiffs presented compelling, direct evidence of discrimination in promotions "such as denials of promotions when more junior white employees were granted promotions, denial of the ability to cross-train during regular shifts like their white counterparts, and a statement by a white supervisor that he would never promote a black employee."

Blacks were promoted at a far lower rate than the percentage of qualified black applicants, the court noted.

Armand Derfner, a Charleston attorney also representing plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said the decision by the appeals court sets a precedent.

"Nationally, it is a shot in the arm for all those who have feared that our courts will not protect civil rights and civil liberties," he said. "This case is important. People talk about 'we're in a post racial society.' Well, a lot of things have improved ... but we're not there yet."

The suit seeks an unspecified amount of punitive damages and back pay for workers denied promotions they were entitled to, Derfner said.

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