Philadelphia Food Workers Claim Bias, Sue for $200M

December 3, 2008

Black cafeteria workers at Philadelphia’s newest skyscraper claim in a $200 million lawsuit that they have endured racist remarks, job discrimination and retaliatory firings.

Eleven plaintiffs filed the federal suit Monday against the Compass Group, a company that handles food services at the new Comcast Center, and two Compass employees. They charge that they were called racist names by supervisors and given lower-tier jobs compared to similarly qualified white workers.

Seven of the 11 plaintiffs were fired as part of a purge of black food-service employees, their lawyers said.

“There’s been a shift from a predominantly African-American base of employees to now, a predominantly white base, which we believe is a result of discrimination,” lawyer Douglas Wigdor said.

The Compass Group, which is based in London and is the world’s largest catering company, said it had not seen the suit and could not comment on specific allegations. However, it denied any pattern of discrimination.

“Compass Group has clear and strong policies that embrace diversity, inclusion and respect in the workplace, and prohibit any sort of behavior that is contrary to these values,” the company said in a statement from its U.S. headquarters in Charlotte, N.C.

The suit also names two related companies, Compass Group North America and Flik International Corp.

The workers hope to proceed as a class as they seek at least $100 million in compensatory damages and pain-and-suffering awards and another $100 million or more in punitive damages.

The named plaintiffs worked only at Comcast Center, but the suit seeks to add black workers at other Compass Group sites.

Comcast Corp., which rents nearly all of the new office tower, was not named as a defendant in the lawsuit. The cable company said it has long supported workplace diversity and has “zero tolerance” for discriminatory practices.

“We have been in touch with Compass Group and have clearly articulated our zero tolerance policy regarding any racial discrimination or insensitive behavior toward employees,” the company said in a statement.

The $500 million Comcast Center officially opened in June, becoming the latest addition to Philadelphia’s skyline. About 2,900 people work in the building, the city’s tallest. According to the suit, Compass started operating in the building in March.

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