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What a tough spot for Charles Morgan. After years of promoting diversity in the legal profession, the BellSouth Corp. GC must now defend his employer against, irony of ironies, a racial discrimination suit. Even more awkward, the company’s lawyers received a sharp judicial rebuke in August for engineering the recusal of the black judge initially assigned to the case. It’s obviously not a situation Morgan relishes. He has long encouraged corporations and law firms to hire more minority attorneys. And he practices what he preaches. Since Morgan became BellSouth’s top lawyer four years ago, over 80 percent of new in-house hires have been women or minorities. According to plaintiffs’ lawyer Joseph Sellers, however, Morgan’s efforts fall short compared to alleged discrimination at Atlanta-based BellSouth. Sellers asks, “Why not look within your own house before you try to change the homes of others?” Sellers, of Washington, D.C.’s Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll, is lead counsel for Gladys Jenkins and four other black employees who filed suit against BellSouth in Birmingham federal court last spring. They charge that minorities have received lower pay and fewer promotions at the Baby Bell for years. The plaintiffs’ A-list legal team also includes Cyrus Mehri of D.C.-based Mehri & Skalet and Johnnie Cochran of Atlanta’s Cochran, Cherry, Givens & Smith. If Jenkins and her colleagues win class certification next year, as many as 20,000 current or former BellSouth employees could ultimately be represented in the suit. HIRING THE JUDGE’S NEPHEW Morgan, who declines to discuss the particulars of the case, says he was “disappointed by the lawsuit, but not surprised, considering that many other major companies have been sued for discrimination.” He insists that BellSouth is committed to racial inclusiveness throughout its ranks, not just in the law department. But company actions — which would have forced the removal of U.W. Clemon, the judge first assigned to the case — certainly cast an odd light on Morgan’s claims. A former civil rights advocate, Clemon is the sole black judge in the Northern District of Alabama. Clemon also has a reputation as a liberal jurist who favors employees, a bias that BellSouth likely wanted to avoid in the Jenkins suit. Shortly after the judge’s assignment, the company hired his nephew, Terry Price, as local counsel. Retaining Price, a partner in the Birmingham firm of Lehr Middlebrooks Price & Proctor, meant that Clemon would have had to recuse himself from the case. Crying foul, the plaintiffs’ lawyers immediately moved to disqualify Price. Morgan declined to discuss his company’s choice of local counsel. Associate general counsel Marc Gary, however, defends Price, calling him “one of the most prominent labor and employment lawyers in Birmingham.” (Gary is a member of Corporate Counsel‘s Advisory Board.) Judge Lynwood Smith, who heard the motion, didn’t buy BellSouth’s explanation. In removing Price from the case, Smith noted that the telecom had been party to 204 cases in the district since 1991 but had retained the attorney in only four, three of which had been assigned to Clemon. In each case, Clemon recused himself. BellSouth, Smith wrote, “plainly knew what the effect of retaining Lehr Middlebrooks in the present action would be.” MANIPULATION BY BOTH SIDES? For its part, BellSouth also says that judge selection in the Jenkins case was manipulated — but by the plaintiffs. In filing the complaint with the court clerk, one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers noted on a cover sheet that Clemon was trying a similar case. Rather than following the district’s standard practice and allowing a computer to randomly assign the suit to an available judge, a deputy clerk gave it directly to Clemon. In a supplemental opinion in September, Smith agreed with BellSouth and ordered that the case be reassigned. Continuing the parade of ironies, the suit then landed on Smith’s docket. At press time BellSouth had gone over Smith’s head to the U.S. Court of Appeals, arguing that it has a right to retain Price. Not surprisingly, plaintiffs’ attorney Mehri thinks BellSouth’s latest move could backfire. He marvels: “They seem to be willing to risk offending every judge in the Northern District of Alabama.”

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