PHILADELPHIA -- A federal judge gave final approval yesterday to an agreement that will give about $36.3 million to about 2,000 black people who contended they were denied jobs at USX Corp.'s Fairless Works during the 1970s because of their race.
U.S. District Judge Clarence C. Newcomer looked down from the bench at about 20 of those who had joined the class-action suit filed in 1976 against the former U.S. Steel Corp. and thanked them for their patience.
"This is a moment of crowning glory as far as I'm concerned, that we're about to bring this to a final conclusion," said Judge Newcomer, who got the case when he was just four years on the federal bench.
In fact, the hearing was almost anti-climactic -- it took 21 minutes minutes to formally close a court case that had taken 15 years to litigate and had twice been before the U.S. Supreme Court.
It also was tinged with irony. For Elbert G. Green and his fellow plaintiffs, the coveted steel industry jobs they sought and were denied almost two decades ago will vanish Aug. 8 when USX Corp. formally closes the steel-making operation at Fairless in Bucks County.
The plant's 2,100 workers basically have been laid off since January and will soon begin to receive severance and retirement information, said a USX spokesman.
According to Creed C. Black Jr., chief lawyer for the plaintiffs, 1,882 people have submitted applications for damages since the settlement agreement between the plaintiffs and USX Corp. was announced Feb. 26. Mr. Black said he expected an additional 100 applicants to have filed by last night's deadline.
According to court documents filed for yesterday's hearing, the average settlement will be $18,155. The amount an individual receives will depend on a formula based on when the person applied for a job as well as other factors. Settlements will range from a high of $21,921 for those who applied in 1973 to a low of $10,778 for those who applied in 1979.
Judge Newcomer also approved special awards of damages in excess of the basic award for nine people who did extra work helping lawyers prepare the case for trial. Elbert Green and Robert Danley, the two plaintiffs named in the title of the suit, will each receive an extra $20,000. Seven others will each receive $2,500.
In addition to the damages awarded to the former USX applicants, the settlement includes $7 million for the plaintiffs' legal costs -- about $6.38 million to the Philadelphia law firm of Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll, for which Mr. Black works, and the remainder to the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia. The law center initiated the lawsuit and handled it until about 1980, when the suit was certified a class action.
USX denied any discrimination and noted that the percentage of black people hired at Fairless was greater than the percentage of black residents in the area surrounding the plant. But in his ruling, Judge Newcomer cited the proportion of black applicants to black people hired. Of every 125 applicants, he found, 32 were black. But when it came to filling jobs, of every 125 workers hired, only 22 were black.