Port firm accused of racial bias Suit claims whites assigned more work

April 18, 1991|By Blair S. Walker

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed a lawsuit accusing a port stevedoring company of discriminating against three predominantly black groups of dockworkers and of firing them after the EEOC validated their claims.

In an action filed in September in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, Ceres Marine Terminals Inc. is also accused of firing three predominantly white groups of stevedores in a retaliatory move stemming from the EEOC's findings.

An attorney representing Ceres said his client did not engage in discriminatory practices and has evidence to prove it.

In all, 96 dockworkers were fired by Ceres. All formerly had worked with Chesapeake Co., which Ceres bought in 1984, according to David Norken, an EEOC attorney.

His agency's lawsuit says Ceres unfairly doled out work assignments to stevedores, who operate in 16-person units called gangs.

"One less senior, predominantly white gang got more work than three more senior, predominantly black gangs," he said. "At least one of those gangs, when matched against the white gang, was more productive."

The alleged discrimination took place from 1986 until 1989, when the EEOC became involved and completed an investigation, according to court papers.

When the EEOC notified Ceres that the claims had merit, Ceres allegedly retaliated by releasing all of the gangs that had worked for Chesapeake, Mr. Norken said.

Gil A. Abramson, an attorney who is representing Ceres, denied the allegations in the complaint. "Ultimately, when we go through all the papers and records we have and the EEOC gets to see them, I think they will see there's no factual basis for their claim."

The EEOC is requesting that the predominantly black gangs receive back pay from Ceres, that the company post guidelines for handing out work assignments and that it be enjoined from further discriminatory or retaliatory actions, Mr. Norken said.

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