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Seven black employees of Southern Co., who claimed they’d been discriminated against systematically, “didn’t have any evidence” that their white counterparts received more favorable treatment because of their race, according to the energy company’s lead counsel. According to that lawyer, Troutman Sanders partner Steven W. Riddell, that’s why the federal suit against his client was dismissed on Monday. Riddell said Southern Co., Georgia Power Co. and two subsidiaries named in the 3-year-old race discrimination suit always held that they do not discriminate against black employees. “What we did is put together facts involving the seven individuals’ circumstances and claims they alleged and put them in front of the judge,” he said. U.S. District Judge Orinda D. Evans “looked at them in great detail and found no merit to the seven claims.” The suit featured allegations that hangman’s nooses allowed to dangle in Georgia Power workplaces across the state were symbolic of discrimination against the energy conglomerate’s black employees. That discrimination, the suit alleged, also was reflected in lower salaries and an absence of promotions for blacks. Cooper v. Southern Co., 1:00-cv-2231 (N.D. Ga., March 31, 2003). On Monday, Evans issued a series of orders granting summary judgment to the Southern Co. and its subsidiaries and dismissed the case. The plaintiffs, all current or former Southern Co. employees, had sought to have the case litigated as a class action on behalf of an estimated 2,400 employees. Evans rejected class certification in 2001. On Wednesday, Riddell called Evans’ decision not to permit the plaintiffs to represent a class of defendants “a procedural issue,” which he claimed had little impact on Southern Co.’s ultimate success. But as a result of the ruling, the company did not have to defend itself against allegations that it engaged in a broad pattern and practice of racial discrimination. Instead, the company had to defend itself only on the merits of each of the seven claims. Riddell also said that early in the litigation, the plaintiffs’ attorneys abandoned claims that Southern Co.’s black employees were subjected to a racially hostile working environment typified by the nooses. “We filed some motions back in the early stages of the litigation saying none of them [the plaintiffs] could state a claim of being subjected to a hostile work environment. When we filed that, they abandoned those claims,” Riddell said. “We never really had to address that issue,” he continued. “I think they knew none of the seven people could establish they had suffered any racial harassment. They didn’t have the facts.” But plaintiffs’ counsel Michael B. Terry, a partner at Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore, countered that plaintiffs’ claims of a hostile working environment never were abandoned. “We were not asserting separate claims,” he said. “We were using evidence of a hostile racial working environment to prove the intent behind the racial discrimination.” Terry said his clients plan to appeal.

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