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A Philadelphia lawyer is taking the lead in a class action accusing a major insurer of widespread, systemic discrimination against its African-American employees. Alberta Byrd Brennan, a lawyer who lives in Wynnewood, Pa., retained another Philadelphia lawyer, Alan Epstein of Spector Gadon & Rosen, to represent her in a suit against ACE INA Holdings, which bought all of CIGNA’s domestic property and casualty operations in July 1999. Epstein filed the suit on May 30. Since then, he said, more African Americans who handle claims for ACE have come forward with similar stories of racial bias that affected their earnings, promotions and job opportunities. Yesterday, he moved to amend the complaint to propose a class of plaintiffs, including six more plaintiffs in the case caption. All seven of the named plaintiffs are African-American women who live in Pennsylvania, New Jersey or Delaware. Two are lawyers, and three are paralegals; all of them are (or were) claims handlers for ACE or its predecessor companies. Epstein said yesterday that Brennan, before she brought her own complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, had undertaken a statistical analysis of disparities in treatment between black and white workers in her own department. That made the case ideal for class action, he said, because it put the company on notice that systemic bias was alleged. The amended complaint proposes a class comprising “all present and former black clerical, administrative, professional, and managerial employees of the Defendant Companies [ACE INA Holdings Inc. and its subsidiaries Insurance Company of North America, Brandywine Holdings, and Century Indemnity] who have been employed by the Defendant Companies from 1990 to date.” The complaint estimates that the class has 800 to 1,000 members. It alleges that the defendants failed to pay black employees the same salaries as white employees with similar education, experience, skill and backgrounds; that the companies failed to promote black employees as frequently as similarly situated white workers who performed comparably; that the companies gave white workers better raises than black workers; and that the company “failed to adequately investigate, respond to, and remedy internal complaints of racial discrimination.” The complaint outlines each plaintiff’s story. Several report watching white employees with educational backgrounds and experience comparable to their own start out at higher salary grades. Most have tales of lower raises and less frequent promotions. The account of Brennan’s experience, however, is the most complete — particularly because of its statistical survey of her department. For instance, Brennan alleges that in 1994, the average salary increase for black employees in her department was approximately 1.62 percent, while the average salary increase for white employees in the department was approximately 4.54 percent. In 1994 and 1995, she claims, “the average time that white employees in the department remained at their salary grades before they were promoted was two years … however, the average time that the black employees in the department remained in their salary grade before they were promoted was approximately three years.” Brennan says her complaints to management about the situation were never properly addressed. Lisa Hicks, vice president for communications at Hicks, said ACE does not comment on matters in litigation. However, she said that the company “is proud to be an affirmative action and equal opportunity employer and is fully committed to a diverse workforce.” “ACE takes all employee matters very seriously,” she said.

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