NAACP voluntarily dismisses bias suit against US Airways

A US Airways employee, above, and passengers, left, at the Philadelphia airport. The NAACP and the carrier pledged to collaborate on equal-opportu-nity programs.
A US Airways employee, above, and passengers, left, at the Philadelphia airport. The NAACP and the carrier pledged to collaborate on equal-opportu-nity programs.
Posted: November 09, 2010

What began as a startling NAACP suit accusing US Airways Group Inc. of discriminating against its African American employees at Philadelphia International Airport has ended with a settlement and a pledge by the airport's largest carrier to strengthen workplace diversity.

On the matter of the monetary terms and whether the three former US Airways employees named as plaintiffs in January's federal class-action suit would get - or even want - their old jobs back, no one would say.

The case before U.S. District Judge Petrese Tucker was voluntarily dismissed Friday, the same day the NAACP and US Airways issued a joint statement that the airline would continue a "strong commitment" to diversity and equal opportunity and would work with the NAACP to enhance its workplace-diversity programs at the Philadelphia airport and at Reagan National Airport in Washington.

In the statement, the NAACP and US Airways pledged to collaborate at the two airports on equal-opportunity programs, training, personnel, policies, and procedures, and to "maintain a direct dialogue" in the future.

"The parties are not commenting on anything except what's in that press release," said NAACP attorney Brian Mildenberg.

Asked whether his clients - three former customer-service employees - would talk about the settlement, Mildenberg said he "got in touch with two out of three. They don't want me to give any details of their situation."

On the financial terms, US Airways spokesman Todd Lehmacher declined to "speak to anything in that arena at all. The only thing I can say: They've voluntarily agreed to dismiss their claims."

US Airways' human-resources staff in Tempe, Ariz., and the Philadelphia NAACP will work "closely" together, Lehmacher said.

"The NAACP is very pleased that US Airways has agreed to work with us," Philadelphia NAACP president J. Whyatt Mondesire said Monday. "There's a big confidentiality clause to this, and I understand why: because it's a national company. We got calls from as far away as Georgia, Texas, and Arizona."

The NAACP settled the case on behalf of "60-odd people that we represented, most of them here, but a couple in D.C.," Mondesire said. "I hate to be circumspect, but I don't want these people to lose what they have been able to achieve."

In the future, US Airways workers with diversity complaints can contact the Philadelphia NAACP, which will discuss the cases with airline human-resources personnel, he said.

"We will be their advocates. It's an 18-month agreement, so during that 18 months, we'll meet with them on a fairly regular basis. I'd say probably every 90 days," he said. "We've asked for the first meeting to be Nov. 22."

The lawsuit, filed Jan. 5, alleged a "pervasive and severe hostile working environment" for African American US Airways employees at Philadelphia airport and claimed that blacks were discriminated against in hiring, termination, discipline, promotion, and benefits, as well as gate, terminal, and ticket-counter assignments based on color.

The NAACP alleged that US Airways managers referred to airport terminals where African Americans were predominantly assigned by derogatory code names, such as "Compton" or "Camden" in Terminal C - references to communities composed primarily of minorities - and "The Ghetto" in Terminal F.

Areas with more white employees were called "Frankford/South Philly" in Terminal B, and "King of Prussia" at international Terminals A-West and A-East, the lawsuit said.

Three former employees were named plaintiffs:

Tiffany Salters, a customer-service agent and later a manager, claimed US Airways demanded that she resign her post as secretary of the Camden County NAACP branch or lose her job.

Ericka Solomon, a customer-service agent from May 2007 until she was fired in September 2008, claimed that a US Airways manager made derogatory remarks based on her race and that she was denied opportunities for promotion.

Linda McDaniel, customer-service agent from July 2005 until she lost her job in November 2008, claimed that after she complained about a racially harassing work environment, managers nitpicked her performance and wrote her up for "knowingly false allegations."

US Airways has 5,964 employees in Philadelphia, and operates 424 daily flights to 106 destinations from 87 gates. The airline does not disclose the race of employees.

"We are definitely a diverse airline, I can say that," Lehmacher said. "But we would not talk about the specific breakdown by ethnicity."

Also on Monday, US Airways reiterated that it would add 420 flight attendants and 80 pilots next year, mostly to cover planned retirements and attrition. The company announced the recall in July.

The jobs will be offered to furloughed employees first, before any hiring from outside. Most new and returning employees are expected to be flying by July 2011.


Contact staff writer Linda Loyd

at 215-854-2831 or lloyd@phillynews.com.

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