- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 15, 2014

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) - Five African-American former employees of a West Virginia gas pipeline contractor sued the company Tuesday, claiming they are victims of racial discrimination.

They filed a joint lawsuit in the Northern District of West Virginia against CKS Pipeline Contracting. CKS is based about 20 miles south of Clarksburg, W.Va.

The lawsuit says four of the five were laid off by CKS on the same day in April 2013, without explanation. A fifth was laid off less than a month earlier. The lawsuit claims the company discriminated against the former employees because they are black. In one instance, the lawsuit claims a supervisor referred to one of the employees as “his ‘black knight.’”

It also claims that CKS replaced the laid off employees with an all-white staff.

The plaintiffs are Aaron Bruce of Flatwoods, West Virginia; Andre Bruce of Jessup, Maryland; Terrence Doster of Ambridge, Pennsylvania; Jeffery Edwards of Moreno Valley, California; and Derrick Reynolds of Monaca, Pennsylvania. Their lawsuit asks for back pay, reinstatement, court costs, damages and an order to prevent the company from retaliating or discriminating against them.

Asked to comment on the lawsuit, CKS owner Jonelle Swiger said the former employees filed a similar racial discrimination complaint last year through the Pittsburgh area office of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She said the EEOC found “there was no fault” in that case.

“One of the reasons for that is that, during that same time frame, we let go a higher percentage of white employees than black employees,” she said.

Swiger provided copies of the EEOC documents that appear to support her version of the events.

Swiger explained that the company’s layoffs in March and April 2013 had nothing to do with CKS. The company was contracting with a gas company, which no longer needed the services of the crew, she said.

The resulting layoffs weren’t just to black employees, she said.

“These employees were laid off with a bunch of white employees,” she said, “and none of them have sued.”

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