ATLANTA: BellSouth, the nation's third-largest local telephone company, has been hit with a class-action lawsuit charging racial discrimination against African-American employees. The suit was filed on behalf of five named employees and 15,000 "similarly situatedcurrent and 5,000 former workers.
Famed trial attorney Johnnie Cochran and class-action expert Cyrus Mehri are acting as co-counsel. It is the second such lawsuit filed by Cochran and Mehri against a global corporation based in Atlanta. Coca-Cola settled a similar case last year.
According to court documents, the suit is primarily based on BellSouth's "Access to Management Test.
Allegedly, African-Americans must take it, while white counterparts don't.
Citing the lawsuit, Necole Merritt, BellSouth senior director of corporate reputation, would not discuss the test, nor would she share how the company now plans to bolster its reputation. A statement by Duane Ackerman, BellSouth chairman and CEO, read, "BellSouth is investigating the charges."
Mehri told PRWeek, "The test has caused 15,000 class members economic damage that is very significant. We see Bell-South as a bellwether for the telecommunications industry. We anticipate that this case will have a ripple effect."
Consultant Kent Matlock, who counsels Atlanta-based corporations on African-American communications issues, said, "BellSouth has done a very good job of making its record public, making its aspirations clear, and, because of its involvement with Fortune and the NAACP, has demonstrated transparency. I would hope that the marketplace respects that."