Lawsuit Is Amended By Judge - - The News for South Mississippi

Lawsuit Is Amended By Judge

A federal judge has dropped Northrop Grumman Corp. and Litton Industries from a lawsuit accusing a Mississippi shipyard of ignoring a racially hostile work place and routinely passing over blacks for promotions. The lawsuit, filed last year in U.S. District Court in Biloxi, lists as plaintiffs 10 employees at Ingalls shipyard in Pascagoula, one former employee and a group called Ingalls Workers for Justice.

The plaintiffs have accused the shipyard of failing to promote blacks and the ``systematic steering of black workers to the filthiest, most unappealing and dangerous jobs.'' The workers have said graffiti in some parts of the yard includes racial slurs, references to the Ku Klux Klan and drawings of black people with nooses around their necks. Ingalls, once a part of Litton Industries, is now owned by global aerospace and defense company Northrop Grumman Corp.

The shipyard, which builds ships for the Navy, is Mississippi's largest private employer with some 10,000 workers. The plaintiffs had hoped to gain class-action status, but U.S. District Judge Walter Gex denied the claim. In his ruling, Gex said a class-action lawsuit was not appropriate because ``claims for compensatory and punitive damages require specific inquiries into each plaintiff's unique circumstances.'' In dismissing Northrop Grumman and Litton, the judge said there was no evidence that either corporation was involved in ``the alleged offending employment decisions.'' An Ingalls spokesman said the company was gratified by the judge's decision and that the shipyard deals immediately with any charges of discrimination.

Sandra Jaribu Hill with the Mississippi Workers' Center for Human Rights, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said the 10 workers and one former employee would continue to pursue individual claims against Ingalls. Hill said the plaintiffs also likely would appeal Gex's ruling to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. ``This is only the first bite of the apple,'' she said.

In September 2000, Ingalls settled a lawsuit with a 46-year-old electrician who alleged she was treated with hostility because she's black. Earlean Bell filed a federal lawsuit in 1997 that said a white male co-worker in 1994 sneaked up behind her on the job, placed a noose around her neck and tightened it. In court papers, Bell said she was particularly upset because, as a child, she was often told tales of her relatives being lynched in the 1930s. Terms of the Bell settlement were not announced.

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