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Black steelworkers certified for promotions bias class action


Black workers at a South Carolina steel plant are entitled to class certification on their job promotion claims, says a U.S. appeals court in overturning a federal court ruling on the issue for the second time.

At the start of the complex litigation in 2004, there were 71 black workers out of a total of 611 employees in the Huger, South Carolina, steel plant operated by Charlotte, North Carolina-based Nucor Corp. and Nucor Steel-Berkeley, but only one black supervisor, according to Monday’s ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, in Quinton Brown et al. v. Nucor Corp.; Nucor Steel-Berkeley.

Plaintiffs in the case sought class certification for discriminatory job promotion practices and a racially hostile work environment. In 2007, the U.S. District Court in Charleston, South Carolina, denied the workers’ motion for class certification on both charges. In 2009, the 4th Circuit reversed that ruling, calling for certification on both charges.

In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against a proposed class of about 1.5 million members in Wal-Mart Stores Inc. v. Betty Dukes et al. Citing that ruling, the District Court decertified the job promotions class but not the hostile work environment class.

In its ruling Monday, the appeals court once again reinstated the job promotions class certification.

The promotions system at the plant “requiring approvals from different levels of management, created an environment in which the discriminatory exercise of discretion by one department head harmed the promotions opportunities for all black workers at the plant by foreclosing on opportunities in that department and generally impeding upward mobility,” said the 63-page majority ruling. It said the District Court had “fundamentally misapprehended the reach of Wal-Mart and its application to the workers’ promotions class.”

“At bottom, the workers seek nothing more than the chance to speak with one voice about the promotions discrimination they allegedly suffered as one class on account of one uniting feature: the color of their skin,” said the appeals court in remanding the case to the District Court with instructions to certify the class.

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