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11TH CIRCUIT LOOKS AT RACE SUIT SKEPTICALLY ATLANTA — Before oral arguments on Tuesday, one might have thought Atlanta’s federal appeals court wasn’t very interested in a high-profile race discrimination suit against Southern Co. and three subsidiaries, including Georgia Power Co. The Eleventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals already had taken the rare step of denying requests by the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s National Litigation Center to offer their views on the case in opposing friend-of-the-court briefs. But on Tuesday a three-judge panel subjected the case to a withering 85-minute examination, nearly three times the length of a typical oral argument. Lawyers for the plaintiffs and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which was supporting the plaintiffs, bore the brunt of the panel’s scrutiny, as Judge Edward Carnes called one of the plaintiffs’ arguments “absurd.” At issue was a series of rulings against the plaintiffs — a proposed class of about 2,400 Southern Co. black employees — by Chief Judge Orinda Evans of the U.S. District Court in Atlanta. In October 2001, Evans refused to allow the case to become a class action. She concluded that statistics showing black employees had lower average salaries and fewer promotions than white employees — along with evidence about hangman’s nooses in Georgia Power offices and racial jokes, slurs and epithets — were “insufficient” to establish a hostile work environment common to all locations or a pattern and practice of discrimination throughout the companies. — Fulton County Daily Report

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