- The Washington Times - Monday, October 6, 2003


The Supreme Court refused yesterday to stop about 2,600 current and former black managers from suing food-services company Sodexho Marriott Services Inc. in what the company described as the largest employment-discrimination case of its kind.

Nearly $1 billion is at stake, the Gaithersburg-based company maintains.

The justices had been asked to use the case to clarify when judges should block large class-action lawsuits. They declined, without comment.

Lawyers for the suing workers disputed the $1 billion amount and said they have not sought specific damages. They want the company to revise its promotion procedures.

The black workers assert that the company broke federal civil rights laws, but the company said federal regulators have found no evidence of discrimination.

Company lawyer Todd J. Horn of Baltimore said if the lawsuit is allowed, any company can face a large class-action suit if a minority is underrepresented in upper-level management positions.

“Until now, such allegations of glass-ceiling obstacles to upper-level management positions have never been held to permit a massive class action absent proof that the barriers to promotion emanate from discriminatory policies,” Mr. Horn told the court in a filing.

Kerry Alan Scanlon of Washington, representing the workers, said in paperwork that black managers “face a glass wall, as well as a glass ceiling, because they have been shunted into dead-end ‘black’ accounts that serve and are supervised mostly by African-Americans.”

Large class-action cases have caught the attention of Congress. Among the proposals is moving large interstate cases out of state courts and into federal courts.

Also yesterday, the Supreme Court:

• Declined to consider appeals from General Motors Corp. over class-action lawsuits that accused the carmaker of concealing defective seat belt buckles. The company had been sued in Illinois under a state consumer-fraud law. At issue in the appeals was whether the cases belong in federal or state court, and how courts should handle transfer requests.

• Gave a victory to California long-distance customers. Justices said they would not hear an AT&T; Corp. appeal of a court ruling that the provider violated a California consumer-protection law by requiring customers to arbitrate disputes instead of suing. Other long-distance companies, including MCI and Sprint, argued that without arbitration, long-distance calling costs would rise for everyone.

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