- The Washington Times - Friday, August 31, 2001

A federal judge has dealt a setback to Harrah's casino in Atlantic City, N.J., allowing a white woman to expand her reverse-discrimination lawsuit to cover hundreds of other whites seeking jobs and promotions.

District Judge Stephen M. Orlofsky certified the case as a class-action by Mary Osgood, a 20-year Harrah's employee who said she was demoted from the managerial post she held for three years so that it could be given to a black man, Glenn Cunningham.

"Every promotion that took place at Harrah's included a race-based consideration," Mrs. Osgood's lawsuit charges.

Mrs. Osgood claims that Harrah's unconstitutionally used race as the basis to replace her as the top-ranking employee on her shift. She said casinos sought to comply with state regulations aimed at forcing gambling halls to hire and promote more minorities.

She resigned after refusing a demotion of six pay grades to work as a casino host, recruiting high-rollers to gamble.

The judge said the case will encompass "all Caucasian employees of Harrah's and job applicants to Harrah's, between 1998 and the present, who claim that they were denied employment opportunities or suffered adverse employment decisions at Harrah's on the basis of race."

"That number is zero," Harrah's attorney, Russell L. Lichtenstein, said yesterday. "At Harrah's, every hiring or promotion decision is made on the basis of who the best qualified person is, regardless of race or gender."

Court papers pinpoint casino employment at the end of 1998, when 1,796 whites were on the staff of 3,176. During that year, 33 of 154 high-level job opportunities went to minorities, said Mrs. Osgood. She added that 52 of 86 persons hired in one five-month period were members of racial minorities.

"We deny that those numbers are even closely accurate," Mr. Lichtenstein said.

Mrs. Osgood makes no claim about sex discrimination. That issue is before Judge Orlofsky in another lawsuit, brought by John D. Rudolph against the Tropicana Casino and Resort.

That case is not yet certified as a class action. On July 31, Judge Orlofsky ruled state officials are immune from the Tropicana lawsuit, leaving the casino the sole defendant.

Judge Orlofsky's decision, issued in Camden, N.J., Aug. 22, rejects Harrah's contentions that there aren't enough similar job disputes to justify a class action, and that unionized or other employees have little in common with such a high-ranking official.

Mr. Lichtenstein conceded yesterday that casinos may be in a no-win situation in trying to comply with Casino Control Commission regulations that violate U.S. law or the Constitution. But he insists Mrs. Osgood's demotion had nothing to do with those regulations, an issue to be decided at a trial.

"It was solely her performance. She was not performing her job at the level expected of her by her employer," Mr. Lichtenstein said. "Furthermore, Mrs. Osgood will not be able to show that she was replaced by an African-American man. Two people were hired at her level at that time, a black man and a white man. Neither of them was assigned to her post. The white male who worked with her replaced her on her shift."

Under Judge Orlofsky's ruling, other class-action plaintiffs must make their own case and prove damages in a "bifurcated action" if Mrs. Osgood wins the core lawsuit, which would resolve common issues.

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