WASHINGTON – A federal judge has thrown out the bulk of a class-action racial discrimination case filed by African American warehouse workers against Giant Foods.
The black workers claimed that nooses were displayed in the grocery’s warehouses on at least four occasions, racist graffiti appeared on bathroom and trailer walls and that supervisors repeatedly made racially offensive comments to them.
The 11 workers blamed that racism for discriminatory actions against them, including firings, suspensions, public humiliation and loss of promotions. They filed suit in 1996.
But U.S. District Judge Frederick J. Motz ruled Wednesday that while there was clear evidence “that racial hostility existed between African-American workers and white workers at the Giant warehouses from 1980 to the time this suit was initiated in 1996,” the workers did not have enough evidence to proceed to trial on most of their claims.
He rejected the claims of 10 of the workers. He also rejected their request to proceed as a class representing all former, current and future black employees of Giant.
Motz did allow part of one plaintiff’s case to proceed. The judge said Gregory Carson experienced worse harassment than the other plaintiffs, and he had witnesses to back up his claims.
Carson said, for example, that one of his managers told him that while whites could send people to the moon, blacks were only good for sticking bones through their noses. He said the same manager made similar comments daily.
An outside legal counsel for Giant expressed satisfaction Friday with the judge’s ruling.
“After almost six years of litigation in the trial court, Giant is pleased that the case has been resolved in its favor at this level,” Kumiki Gibson said. “The company has always had faith in the judicial process and has faith that the case will be justly and finally decided if the case is appealed.”
The attorney for the workers’ vowed to appeal.
“We’ll continue to fight these cases until the Fourth Circuit Court or the Supreme Court says we don’t have a case,” said Jo Ann P. Myles.
Myles said she also hoped that, on appeal, the case would be allowed to proceed as a class-action suit.
“We also wanted to send a message to all employers in the Washington area that they cannot discriminate,” she said of the class-action strategy.
But Motz, in rejecting the request for class status, said that the 11 plaintiffs had “substantially different experiences and the hostile work experience of each plaintiff must be considered on its own individual merits.”
He also had sharp words for Myles in his decision to refuse class status.
“In this case Jo Ann P. Myles, Esq., cannot adequately represent the proposed subclasses. Ms. Myles’ frequent typographical errors, citation errors and clear misstatements of the law in memoranda and during oral arguments prove that the interests of the putative class members will not be adequately served by her representation,” Motz wrote.
Myles said she and the judge simply had a disagreement over their interpretation of the law. “That’s why you have two sides,” she said.
“These are minor issues he’s talking about,” Myles said. “Courts make errors every day.”
The 10 plaintiffs whose claims were dismissed include: Anthony Blocker, Melvyn Connor, John Dalls Jr., William Ingram, David Jones, Maurice Mathews, Jerry Mungro, David Newman, W. Kirb Qualls Jr. and Wilbert Skipper Jr.