A former American Express executive has entered mediation with the financial services company over his federal complaint alleging he was fired for being White and opposing the firm’s diversity agenda.
Brian Netzel, a 62-year-old former client manager in Arizona, filed the complaint late last month with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He entered mediation with American Express on Thursday.
“On October 30, 2020 AmEx unceremoniously terminated my employment as part of a ‘diversity’ policy that rewarded company executives for making their departments less ‘white,’’ his EEOC complaint states. “My termination was the direct result of me being an older white male, a demographic the company specifically sought to reduce in managerial positions like my own, and in direct retaliation for my stated opposition to AmEx’s racially discriminatory and hostile policies.”
Mr. Netzel said he was fired by a higher ranking executive who profited from his termination because the company is awarding bonus points for having more people of color.
American Express initiated training based on critical race theory and subsequently fired Mr. Nextel after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in May 2020, according to Mr. Netzel and company documents made public by Christopher Rufo of the Manhattan Institute.
Developed in graduate and law schools in the 1970s, critical race theory is an analytical tool based on Marxist critical studies. It posits that racism is a foundational element of American society and government and is important in understanding and evaluating U.S. laws, policies and programs.
American Express said Mr. Netzel’s claim is “without merit.”
“We have a longstanding commitment to living our company values, which includes fostering a diverse and inclusive culture where all colleagues feel welcome and heard and have equal opportunities to thrive,” company spokeswoman Leah Gerstner said.
“Our diversity, equity and inclusion programs are singularly about upholding this commitment, and are not based on any specific theory, nor are they targeted to a specific group of employees,” Ms. Gerstner said. “Advancement and compensation within our company is based solely on individual business and leadership performance. Any characterization of our company and culture to the contrary is just wrong.”
According to company records, American Express ordered employees to undergo “anti-racist” training sessions in which they were compelled to identify their “privilege” and define themselves by “race, sexual orientation, body type, religion, disability status, age, gender identity [and] citizenship.”
In addition, American Express paid Harvard Kennedy School professor Khalil Muhammad to lecture company employees. Mr. Muhammad, the great-grandson of Nation of Islam founder Elijah Muhammad, spoke on the topic of race in corporate America and excoriated capitalism and American Express for alleged evils visited on people of color.
According to his EEOC complaint, Mr. Netzel objected to internal pressure to align with left-wing positions, which he said offered a distorted view of American Express’ core credit business.
“Our members were being burned out of their business,” he said of riots that erupted amid racial justice protests after the Floyd murder. “It seemed a bizarre position based on the company.”
Mr. Netzel also said he would have run afoul of the law had he followed Mr. Muhammad’s advice. “He insisted in his speech that we treat Black people differently than Whites, which in the credit business is illegal,” Mr. Netzel said. “I was floored.”
Mr. Netzel voiced concerns about the training and asked why conservative Blacks like Thomas Sowell or Robert Woodson were excluded. He also posted on his individual Facebook page memes mocking people like social justice advocate Shaun King, whose fundraising has drawn criticism, and Rachel Dolezal, a White woman who pretended to be Black and ran the Seattle NAACP chapter.
In terminating him, American Express cited his social media posts and even a private text discussion he had with a friend over whether Popeye’s or Chick-fil-A had superior fried chicken, according to Mr. Netzel’s attorney, David Pivtorak.
“I had posted jokes critical of the ‘woke-ism’ taking over the country and also been critical of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio for painting ‘Black Lives Matter’ on the street in Manhattan outside of Trump Tower,” Mr. Netzel said.
Mr. Netzel’s position was eliminated, not by his direct supervisor for cause, but by another executive who would profit by dismissing White employees, Mr. Pivtorak said.
“There was an extremely shady procedural aspect to all this,” the attorney said. “It wasn’t the usual chain of command …”
The EEOC complaint says the company ignored anti-discrimination laws in trying to achieve the newly ordered equity.
“AmEx made it clear that the demographics in … positions must be changed to reflect their proportionate representation in the general population,” the complaint states. “The announcement was made without any explanation or reassurance that the company would still follow applicable anti-discrimination laws in achieving its objective.”
Correction: In a previous version of this story, a quote by Ms. Gerstner on advancement and compensation had a typo.