WASHINGTON – Nineteen former and current employees of Circuit City Stores Inc. this week filed two lawsuits against the company, alleging a pattern of discrimination in hiring and promotion of African Americans.
The suits, filed in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, claim that Circuit City continually denied “equal compensation, promotion and transfer opportunities to qualified African- American employees” at the company’s Richmond headquarters and at stores in the Washington-metropolitan area.
They say the company treated African Americans “less favorably in the terms and conditions of their employment than comparably situated Caucasian employees.”
Said Joseph Sellers, a lawyer with the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs: “This company’s practices are way out of step with how business should be done in the 1990s. We are seeking significant changes in the way Circuit City treats its employees.”
Richard Sharp, Circuit City’s chief executive officer, said in a written response that “a comprehensive statistical analysis of employee records conclusively demonstrates that no factual or legal basis exists for such allegations.”
But Ann Collier, a company spokeswoman, said Circuit City does not compile minority work force statistics “because we don’t base our decisions on that.”
She said the electronics and appliance retailer has 381 stores in 34 states, with more than 33,000 employees. More than 3,000 of those workers are in the Richmond area.
The workers who filed the suits Tuesday – five from Maryland – are seeking money for lost earnings, benefits and emotional harm, as well as punitive damages.
One suit was filed by nine former and current workers from the Washington-metropolitan area.
The other, a class action suit, was filed by 10 people who worked in the company’s Richmond headquarters. A decision in favor of the workers would allow other current and former workers to file similar claims.
Reginald Derrickson, of Forestville, Md., attended a press conference Wednesday to announce the suits. He said that despite his awards and success as a sales manager, he was repeatedly passed over for promotions, which were given to less-qualified white employees. He said he worked with the company from 1985 to 1993, last at the Marlow Heights store.
“I expected that when it was time to move on to the next level, and I was qualified, that I would go to that next level,” Derrickson said.
Edward Stokes, who worked in the Richmond headquarters for four years before quitting in 1993, said he often felt frustrated watching people he trained get promoted ahead of him. The trainees were white.
“It’s degrading,” Stokes said. “If I was responsible enough to train them for the position, then I was responsible enough to get the position.”
The suits also questioned Circuit City’s hiring practices.
Maxine James, of Bowie, Md., said during her 14-year career with the company she was told several times not to consider the employment applications of other African Americans.
“I was told we already had too many blacks working in the store and that I should watch the mix,” James said. “I was told the store should reflect the racial mix of the community by my store manager and my district manager.”
Steven Taylor, a former employee who is white, is also named as a plaintiff in the Washington-area suit. Taylor said he was demoted after refusing a request by his superiors to hire more white sales counselors in a Rockville, Md., store. Sellers, who is representing the workers, said he would welcome a settlement, but expects to go to trial in U.S. District Court next summer or fall. -30-