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CEO of GE unit files suit alleging racist practices


BRIDGEPORT, Conn.—A top ranking African-American executive of General Electric Co. is suing the manufacturing giant, alleging it discriminated against him and thousands of other African-American employees by subjecting them to racist pay and promotion policies and practices.

The suit, filed Tuesday in the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut in Bridgeport, Conn., seeks $450 million in compensatory, punitive and equitable damages, as well as injunctive relief to change GE policies and procedures.

The suit, which seeks class action status on claims of race discrimination and denial of equal pay and promotion, also includes individual claims for retaliation, breach of contract, tortious conduct and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Marc T. Thomas, chairman, president, and chief executive officer of Irving, Texas-based GE Aviation Materials L.P., alleges, among other things, that GEAM paid him a lower salary and bonus than other comparable nonminority CEOs at GE; paid him 8% less than a white subordinate who reported to him; and paid him less than his white predecessor, who was demoted for malfeasance, according to the complaint.

Mr. Thomas, who remains employed at GEAM in his same position, also alleges that the defendants retaliated against him after he changed policies "that allowed undeserving white employees to receive unfair bonuses and perks," defended the reputation of another African-American employee, and spoke out against the racial discrimination at the company, court papers say.

"Sadly, the mistreatment of an individual as distinguished as Mr. Thomas is emblematic of GE's continuing inability and unwillingness to prevent institutionalized racism at GE," said Steven L. Wittels, an attorney with Sanford, Wittels & Heisler L.L.P. in New York who represents Mr. Thomas, in a statement.

Fairfield, Conn.-based GE "flatly denies" the allegations and said it will ask the court to dismiss the case.

The company noted in a statement that it is globally recognized and acknowledged as a leader in diversity and has been recognized as such by national awards received for pursing and promoting diversity excellence in the workplace.

"Mr. Thomas has been at GE less than four years, but his career illustrates the opportunities that the company can provide to its employees," the company said.

The suit names GE, GE Transportation, GE Aviation Materials, GE CEO Jeffrey R. Immelt and a group of corporate officers and senior operations and human resource leaders at GE.