Lawyers pressing a racial
discrimination lawsuit against U.S. electricity giant Southern
Co. and several of its subsidiaries said Monday they
had added four black workers to the lawsuit and would press for
class-action status to cover more than 2,000 others.
The lawsuit, filed last month in Atlanta's Fulton County
Superior Court by three workers, accused Southern Co., its
Georgia Power unit and one other subsidiary of discriminating
against blacks in pay and promotions and subjecting them to
harassment in the workplace.
The amended suit named an additional Southern Co.
subsidiary as a defendant. Southern Co., the nation's largest
electricity producer, denied that it tolerated discrimination
within its ranks.
"The fact that discrimination exists in more than one of
Southern Co's subsidiaries is not a coincidence but rather a
direct reflection on Southern Co's common and far-reaching
employment policies and practices that allow managers'
racially-biased employment decisions to stand unchecked,'' said
Steven Rosenwasser, an attorney for the law firm Bondurant
Mixson & Elmore, which represents the plaintiffs.
Rosenwasser said the firm would push ahead with efforts to
have a court grant class-action status to the case. He said
about 2,200 current and former black workers dating back to
July, 1998 could eventually be covered by a class-action suit.
The lawsuit alleged the companies, particularly Georgia
Power, had maintained a glass ceiling that virtually excluded
blacks from obtaining positions of power, resulting in a severe
under-representation at senior levels.
Blacks made up 19.2 percent of Georgia Power's work force
as of December, 1998 but accounted for only 22 of the company's
408 top positions, according to the suit.
The companies were also accused of failing to take action
when alerted to racially offensive acts, including the alleged
display of two hangman's nooses on company property and the use
of the word "nigger'' to refer to black employees.
Blacks, especially in the Deep South, view hangman's nooses
as a potent reminder of a time not so long ago when angry white
mobs regularly lynched blacks.
Southern Co. said the changes to the lawsuit would not
alter the company's determination to thoroughly investigate the
allegations of racial discrimination, which it described as
"Southern Co. (including its subsidiaries) maintains a
strong policy of zero tolerance for discriminatory or racially
intolerant behavior,'' said Southern Co. spokesman Todd Terrell,
who noted the issue was a top priority for management.
Southern Co. is the latest in a growing list of companies
based in the U.S. South that have been slapped with racial
Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Co. , the world's largest
soft drinks company, recently reached a tentative settlement of
a racial bias suit filed by a group of former and current black
workers. The beverage giant currently faces another such suit.
Home improvement retailer Home Depot Inc. , also
headquartered in Atlanta, has been sued for alleged racial
discrimination against black workers and at least one black
Southern Co. shares rose 1/8 to 27-5/16 Monday on the New
York Stock Exchange.