March 7, 2003
Friedman's Named in Federal Suit
Four former employees of Friedman's Jewelers filed a federal lawsuit on March 6, claiming the nation's third-largest jewelry chain used racist policies to deny black people employment and promotions, reports the Associated Press.
The plaintiffs claim they were pressured by company policy and a senior manager to hire only a certain number of black people and to transfer black employees to achieve a racial balance in the staff. The plaintiffs are suing for unspecified damages for lost pay, benefits and emotional distress.
An audiotape is part of the filing. The tape was made by a white plaintiff, who says it bears the voice of Jack Steele, a former division vice president, using profanity to describe a store in Largo, MD, and blaming its condition on the large number of black employees.
"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. The plaintiff says the tape was made with Steele's knowledge. According to the suit, the plaintiffs say there were directed to sprinkle black employees through the company, "like chocolate chips" in cookies, to achieve a racial balance.
Friedman's, headquartered in Savannah, GA, says Steele was fired in early 2000 in relation to the allegations contained in the lawsuit.