Judge Dismisses Southern Company Race Bias Suit

April 3, 2003 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Allegations of racial discrimination at Southern Co, Georgia Power Co and two subsidiaries have been tossed out by an Atlanta federal judge.

The dismissal to the discrimination cases came via seven orders, one for each plaintiff, granting Southern’s motions for summary judgment.   In the judgment, US District Judge Orinda Evan said that none of the seven plaintiffs established that their race cost them raises or promotions and exposed them to a hostile work environment, according to a Fulton County Daily Report story.

The suit originally sought class action status for an estimated 2,400 black employees. Evans rejected class certification in 2001.

Non Discrimination

The case, which spanned three years, had citied discrimination in the form of hangman’s nooses in Southern Company subsidiary Georgia Power offices across the state.   Supervisors at the power company contended they never noticed the nooses, which were promptly removed after the suit was filed in the summer of 2000.

Attorneys for the seven plaintiffs said the nooses were symbolic of what was coined the “dark side of Southern Co ‘southern style'” and was an extension of other discriminatory actions.   Overall, the counsel painted a picture of alienation towards Southern’s black employees and the promotion of a working environment that was hostile to African-Americans.

However, spelled out in each of the seven orders was a failure to demonstrate that executives at Southern had engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination that targeted them personally.   The mere presence of the nooses did not prove that the supervisors who tolerated them were racially biased or discriminated against black employees in promotions and salaries.

Further rejected in Evans judgments were expert reports filed by the plaintiffs that indicated “some disparity of compensation between black and white employees.” Saying the statistics were “analytically deficient,” Evans found the data presented by the plaintiffs was generalized and failed to demonstrate that Southern “intentionally discriminated” against them.

Plaintiff Response

Michael Terry, an attorney’s representing the plaintiffs, who also served as counsel in a racial discrimination suit against Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Co (See  Discrimination Suits Linger at Coke ), said “we were disappointed by the ruling and intend to appeal.”

“You don’t have to prove a pattern necessarily. All you have to show is discrimination against the individual plaintiffs,” Terry said.
The case is Cooper v. Southern Co., 1:00-cv-2231 (N.D. Ga. March 31, 2003).