Appellate Court Orders SC Discrim Case Certified as Class Action

August 11, 2009 ( - A federal appellate panel has thrown out a decision by a lower court in an employment discrimination suit by black employees at a South Carolina steel manufacturing plant and ordered the case be certified as a class action.

The 4 th  U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued the decision in the 2004 suit against   Nucor Corporation filed by seven black plant employees on behalf of about 100 other current and former black workers. The appellate panel said Senior U.S. District Judge C. Weston Houck of the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina was wrong in refusing to grant the certification, and sent the case back to Houck for further proceedings.

Circuit Judge Roger L. Gregory, writing for the appellate court, said Houck had made numerous errors in his ruling against the Nucor plaintiffs including whether the allegations being made by the plaintiffs were sufficiently alike to make a class action the most efficient way to try the case. Houck also erred in not finding that the plaintiffs’ claims were sufficiently alike about the hostile work environment, Gregory said.

Gregory said the employees alleged that Nucor maintained a hostile work environment at the Huger, South Carolina, plant with widespread use of racial slurs, showing black employees a noose they were told had been prepared for them, monkey noises broadcast over the public address system, display of the Confederate Flag, and other issues. The plaintiffs also charged they were discriminated against in Nucor’s compensation and promotion policies.

Despite Houck’s ruling, Gregory asserted, “the (workers) have certainly presented compelling direct evidence of discrimination, 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. This evidence alone establishes common claims of discrimination worthy of class certification.”

Gregory said Houck had contended that too many of the plaintiffs were concentrated in one part of the plant so they could not prove a companywide pattern of discriminating against black workers.  

The 4th Circuit ruling is available here .