CINCINNATI (TDB) -- A federal judge has conditionally granted class-action status to African-Americans who contend AK Steel used discriminatory hiring practices at mills in Middletown, Oh., and Ashland, Ky., to keep the workforce solidly white. U.S. District Judge Sandra J. Beckwith issued the order last week over the Middletown-based steelmaker's objections.
The plaintiffs are 16 blacks who were unsuccessful applicants for jobs. They contend the Fortune 500 company engages in systemic racial discrimination in its hiring and promotion practices at the two mills. AK Steel argued the plaintiffs were ''desperate" to obtain class-certification to divert attention from the weakness of their lawsuit. The company's lawyers said the plaintiffs wanted to "extort" a settlement.
Beckwith said she would conditionally certify class-action status "given the need to progress to the merits of this case", which is now nearly five years old. She said they would be divided into two groups:
"1. All African-American applicants for labor positions at AK Steel's Middletown, Ohio plant who took and failed AK Steel's screening employment test within the 300-day period preceding July 9, 2002, and who allege that the test had an impermissible disparate impact on African American applicants.
"2. All African American applicants for labor positions at AK Steel's Ashland, Kentucky plant who took and failed AK Steel's screening employment test within the 300-day period preceding June 8, 200, and who allege that test has an impermissible disparate impact on African-American applicants."
The case is Vivian Bert, et al v. AK Steel Corp, No. 1:02-cv-467, Southern District of Ohio. There is a complete text of the ruling available HERE to those with a Pacer password issued by the federal courts. Currently, AK Steel's Middletown Works has locked out some 2,000 members of the IAM in a labor dispute that started last February. The union's Web site is HERE
AK Steel is scheduled for report its fourth-quarter financial results on Tuesday, Jan. 23. The steelmaker's company produces flat-rolled carbon, stainless and electrical steel products for automotive, construction and manufacturing customers. It has plants in Middletown, Mansfield, Coshocton, Walbridge and Zanesville in Ohio; Rockport and Columbus in Indiana; Ashland, Kentucky, and Butler, Pennsylvania.