Professional Jeweler Archive: FriedmanŐs Faces Discrimination Suit

May 2003

Managing/Employment Practices

Friedman's Faces Discrimination Suit

Complaint alleges discrimination against blacks in hiring, pay, promotions, terms and conditions of employment

Four former employees of Friedman’s Jewelers – one white and three black – filed a federal lawsuit March 6 in U.S. District Court, Maryland Southern Division, Greenbelt, MD, claiming the nation’s third-largest jewelry chain used racist policies to deny black people employment and promotions.

The white plaintiff, Rondall Mitchell, was in charge of 12 Friedman’s stores. He says company policy and a former division manager named Jack Steele pressured him to hire only a certain number of black people and transfer black employees to achieve a racial balance in the staff. He says he was demoted and eventually left the company because of retaliatory harassment when he refused. Two other plaintiffs, both black managers, say they also were told to report the race of all applicants to senior managers and “keep the mix right.” These two managers were cited for failing to meet sales quotas and fired. The suit claims white counterparts were not fired for this kind of failure, but were retrained or demoted. The plaintiffs are suing for unspecified damages for lost pay, benefits and emotional distress.

An audiotape is part of the filing. Mitchell made the tape, and says it records Steele. “We got to get a staff in there and get rid of all those, get rid of half the black people in there,” says the voice on the tape. Mitchell says Steele knew he was being taped.

According to the suit, another Friedman vice president told managers to sprinkle black employees through the company, “like chocolate chips” in cookies, to achieve a racial balance.

Friedman’s, Savannah, GA, told the Associated Press Steele was fired in early 2000 in relation to the allegations. Professional Jeweler repeatedly contacted Friedman’s headquarters but failed to get any response.

Specific Charges

The complaint filed in federal court by four former employees of Friedman’s Jewelers claims the company discriminates by:

  • Explicitly limiting the number of black people hired and rejecting qualified black applicants for store associate and store manager jobs.
  • Denying qualified black people promotions to management positions above store manager.
  • Using discriminatory criteria to make compensation, hiring and promotional decisions.
  • Maintaining an all-white higher-level management despite having black employees qualified for and interested in such jobs.
  • Paying black employees less than whites in similar positions
  • Failing to and refusing to take reasonable and adequate steps to eliminate the continuing effects of Friedman’s past discriminatory policy and/or patterns and practices.
  • Maintaining a work environment that is hostile to black employees.

Copyright © 2003 by Bond Communications