NAACP charges Montgomery firm in drive on corporate discrimination

August 05, 1993|By Nelson Schwartz | Nelson Schwartz,Contributing Writer

WASHINGTON -- Signaling a new focus on corporate discrimination, the NAACP charged yesterday that a systematic pattern of bias against blacks plagues the Hughes Network Systems facility in Montgomery County.

The Hughes plant in Germantown, which manufactures communications equipment, avoids hiring blacks and denies minorities the opportunity for advancement, local and national leaders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said at a news conference.

They cited one case in which a black manager was kicked by a white assistant vice president, who they said was never disciplined for the incident.

Hughes emphatically denied the charges, insisting that it does not discriminate and has an aggressive affirmative action program.

The NAACP's accusation comes on the heels of a billion-dollar settlement last month by the NAACP and the owners of Denny's restaurants, following a flurry of racial complaints. That deal, the NAACP's executive director, the Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., said in an interview yesterday, is the kind of agreement he wants with Hughes or any other big company that discriminates against blacks.

"I have a list on my desk of America's Fortune 500 companies," said Dr. Chavis, 45, who has tried to reinvigorate the nation's largest civil rights group since he took over as executive director in April. "I plan to visit the CEOs of all 500 to negotiate a new social contract on behalf of African-Americans, Latino-Americans and other people of color."

The NAACP maintains that out of 1,200 Hughes employees in Germantown, only 16 are black. Out of 260 senior-level managers at HNS, seven are black, the group said.

In addition, HNS' parent company, Hughes Aircraft, has failed to comply with regulations requiring large government contractors to set aside 5 percent of their projects for minority-owned businesses, the NAACP charged. Hughes Aircraft is a unit of General Motors Corp.

Black employees at HNS are systematically kept out of supervisory positions, said W. Gregory Wims, president of the Montgomery County branch of the NAACP.

Corporate officials at Hughes rejected the NAACP's charges. In Germantown, HNS employs 66 African-Americans, not 16, said Judy Blake, a spokeswoman for the company. She did confirm that seven of the 260 managers are black.

The corporation insisted that it had met federal contracting requirements.

"We are committed to racial diversity, and we have an active affirmative action program," Ms. Blake said. HNS, she added, has passed all federal checks "with flying colors."

But Vance Shaw, a former director of recruitment at HNS, said he was dismissed after complaining of verbal and even physical abuse.

Mr. Shaw, who has filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's Baltimore office, said an assistant vice president at the firm "kicked me, with great force, in my buttocks. The blow caused me to stagger in pain."

Although Mr. Shaw filed an immediate complaint, the company took no action, he said.

A Hughes spokesman disputed Mr. Shaw's account. He said the executive kicked Mr. Shaw "only in jest." The executive was told by supervisors that his behavior was "inappropriate even in jest" and was reprimanded both verbally and in writing, the spokesman said. He said Mr. Shaw was removed because of poor job performance, not because he was black.

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