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Georgia Power, the target of a suit over racist graffiti and nooses found at its plants, is refusing to let its employees be videotaped at a deposition with the offensive material. Plaintiffs’ lawyers in the Fulton County, Ga., State Court suit want the company to bring nooses and pictures of racial graffiti found at plants over the past 2 1/2 years to the depositions of two Georgia Power Co. employees. The company claims the request is nothing more than an effort to embarrass and harass its employees. Georgia Power lawyers have asked a Fulton State Court judge to issue a protective order for the upcoming depositions, which involve two employees who investigated the noose reports. The depositions are part of discovery in a suit filed by four black employees of General Insulation Inc., a subcontractor that worked early this year at Georgia Power’s Plant Wansley in Roopville, Ga. The four claim that General Insulation fired them after they complained to Georgia Power about the racially hostile work environment there. Their suit, which names Georgia Power and General Insulation as defendants, alleges intentional infliction of emotional distress, fraud and tortious interference with employment. Steadman v. Georgia Power, No. 02-VS-029354-A (Fult. St. filed Feb. 26, 2002). No employee, Georgia Power attorneys argue in their motion, “should be videotaped with these offensive and inflammatory symbols, thereby subjecting them to further embarrassment, annoyance, harassment, and oppression.” The company said it would, however, allow the plaintiffs to inspect the nooses at another time and place. Plaintiffs’ attorney Steven J. Rosenwasser said his clients need the Georgia Power employees to authenticate the nooses. That means having the real thing and not a photo, he said. “No case [law] exists requiring us to use a picture when the real evidence exists,” Rosenwasser said. The plaintiffs’ aim isn’t to embarrass witnesses but to conduct discovery, he said. “In many ways,” he added, the company’s protests are “proving the merits of our case.” Georgia Power spokeswoman Lolita Browning said the company wants the protective order because the items the plaintiffs want produced at deposition have no relevance to the case. There were nooses found at Plant Wansley, Browning said, but they were in areas where contractors were working, and not in locations where the plaintiffs now claim they saw them. She said the plaintiffs originally told Georgia Power security officials they never saw nooses at Wansley, but have changed their story. The company believes the Fulton litigation is an extension of the federal case and the plaintiffs’ lawyers’ publicity strategy of putting pressure on Georgia Power, Browning said. GEORGIA POWER EMPLOYEES’ SUIT Georgia Power is also the subject of a federal suit filed by seven of its employees, alleging that the company tolerated a racially hostile work environment and discriminated against minority employees. Cooper v. Georgia Power, No. 00-cv-2231 (N.D. Ga. Aug. 28, 2000). A federal judge denied class certification in that case, a ruling upheld by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Plaintiffs in both cases are represented by Rosenwasser, an associate with Atlanta-based Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore, who is handling the case with partners Michael B. Terry and Joshua F. Thorpe, and Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., Hezekiah Sistrunk Jr. and John K. Givens of Atlanta-based Cochran, Cherry, Givens, Smith & Sistrunk. Rosenwasser said that documents supplied by Georgia Power in the Fulton litigation indicate that nine nooses were found at Plant Wansley from September 2001 to February of this year. The current discovery dispute, he said, “boils down to our right to use the evidence,” not a depiction of the evidence. A jury, he added, needs to see “the evidence that caused our clients emotional distress.” Rosenwasser said the plaintiffs’ lawyers had offered to hold the nooses out to the side of the witness during the deposition and would not require the Georgia Power employees to hold them, but the company refused. He added that it was “ironic that Georgia Power permits nooses to be hung in its facilities, yet it claims that it will be too embarrassing for Caucasians, whom the nooses were not directed at, to discuss or view the nooses in the controlled environment of a deposition.” Georgia Power previously told the Fulton County Daily Report that the federal plaintiffs’ emphasis on nooses is misplaced because some of them were nothing more than knotted rope used by linemen in their jobs. Defense attorney Stephen W. Riddell of Atlanta-based Troutman Sanders said at the time that none of the nooses the company had found were ever used to harass or intimidate anyone. Riddell, who is handling the Fulton case with Sheldon W. Snipe of the same firm and W. Ray Persons of Atlanta-based King & Spalding, didn’t return a call for comment on the motion for a protective order. In their brief, the defense lawyers argue that Georgia Power has supplied the plaintiffs with photographs of the graffiti and nooses and offered to produce the nooses at a mutually agreeable time, but the plaintiffs have refused and continue to make “unreasonable” demands. Courts, the defense brief says, can take steps to protect parties or witnesses from harassment and embarrassment — and harassment and embarrassment are the “only reason Plaintiffs could possibly have for making their request.” A decision on that motion, however, won’t come right away. The judge assigned to the case, Fulton State Court Judge Brenda S. Hill Cole, recused herself last month. Neither side had asked for her to step down, and Cole gave no indication of her reason for doing so. The case has been reassigned to Judge Penny Brown Reynolds.

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