5 Big Companies Sued for Racial Discrimination

Racial discrimination lawsuits against big-name companies such as Walmart Inc., Abercrombie & Fitch, and General Electric have focused national attention on the indignities that employees of color sometimes suffer on the job. Not only do such lawsuits point out common forms of discrimination that these workers face, but they also serve as cautionary tales to companies seeking to foster diversity and eradicate racism in the workplace.

Former President Barack Obama, a Black man, may have landed the nation’s top job in 2008, but many workers of color aren’t so lucky. Because of racial discrimination in the workplace, they earn less pay than their white counterparts, miss out on promotions, and even lose their jobs.

Racial Slurs and Harassment at General Electric

Male judge striking gavel in courtroom, close-up

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General Electric came under fire in 2010 when 60 African American workers filed a lawsuit against the company for racial discrimination. The Black workers said GE supervisor Lynn Dyer called them racial slurs such as the N-word, “monkey,” and “lazy Blacks.”

The suit also alleged that Dyer denied bathroom breaks and medical attention to Black workers and fired others because of their race. In addition, the suit alleged that higher-ups knew about the supervisor’s inappropriate behavior but delayed investigating the matter.

In 2005, GE faced a lawsuit for discriminating against Black managers. The suit accused the company of paying Black managers less than whites, denying them promotions and using offensive terms to describe Black people. It settled in 2006.

Southern California Edison's History of Discrimination Lawsuits

In 2010, a group of Black workers sued Southern California Edison for discrimination. The workers accused the company of consistently denying them promotions, not paying them fairly, allowing bias to influence job assignments, and not upholding two consent decrees stemming from class-action discrimination suits filed against Southern California Edison in 1974 and 1994.

The suit also pointed out that the number of Black employees at the company had dropped by 40% since the last discrimination lawsuit was filed. The 1994 suit included a settlement for more than $11 million and a mandate for diversity training.

Walmart vs. Black Truck Drivers

Approximately 4,500 Black truck drivers who applied to work for Walmart between 2001 and 2008 filed a class-action suit against the corporation for racial discrimination. They said Walmart turned them away in disproportionate numbers.

The company denied any wrongdoing but agreed to settle for $17.5 million. Since the 1990s, Walmart has been subject to several dozen discrimination lawsuits. In 2010, for example, a group of the company’s West African immigrant employees sued the company after being fired by supervisors they allege sought to give their jobs to locals.

Workers at an Avon, Colorado, Walmart said a new manager told them, “I don’t like some of the faces I see here. There are people in Eagle County who need jobs.”

Abercrombie's Classic American Look

Clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch made headlines in 2003 after it was sued for discriminating against African Americans, Asian Americans, and Latinos. In particular, Latinos and Asians accused the company of steering them to jobs in the stock room rather than on the sales floor because Abercrombie & Fitch wanted to be represented by workers who looked “classically American.”

Employees of color also complained that they’d been fired and replaced by white workers. A&F ended up settling the lawsuit for $50 million.

“The retail industry and other industries need to know that businesses cannot discriminate against individuals under the auspice of a marketing strategy or a particular ‘look.’ Race and sex discrimination in employment are unlawful,” Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawyer Eric Drieband stated upon the lawsuit’s resolution.

Black Diners Sue Denny's

In 1994, Denny’s restaurants settled a $54.4 million suit for allegedly discriminating against Black diners at its then 1,400 dining establishments across the United States. Black customers said that they were singled out at Denny’s and were asked to prepay for meals or were charged a cover before dining.

Then, a group of Black U.S. Secret Service agents said they waited for more than an hour to be served as they watched whites being waited on several times. In addition, a former restaurant manager said supervisors told him to shut down his restaurant if it attracted too many Black diners.

A decade later, the Cracker Barrel restaurant chain faced a discrimination lawsuit for allegedly delaying to wait on Black customers, following them around, and racially segregating customers in different sections of restaurants.