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The chief executive of a General Electric Co. subsidiary filed a lawsuit against the conglomerate Tuesday, accusing it of discriminating against him and other black managers in awarding pay, promotions and perks. Marc Thomas, president and CEO of GE Aviation Materials LP, charged that GE refused to promote or reward him despite exemplary sales and profits in the business he runs, and trying to force him out when he complained of discrimination. GE denied the allegations in the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Bridgeport, Conn. “At General Electric, African-Americans are reluctantly allowed to sit at the table,” Thomas said Tuesday. “They’re not allowed to ask any questions.” His experience at the Fairfield-based industrial, finance and media company echoes that of many other black managers whose careers have been stymied by cronyism and outdated policies, Thomas’ lawsuit alleges. The action, which seeks class action status to represent thousands of managers, asks the court for at least $450 million in damages, as well as back pay, increases in pay and benefits and broad changes in GE’s personnel practices. GE said it would seek to dismiss the lawsuit. “GE is globally recognized and acknowledged as a leader in diversity and has been recognized as such by national awards received for pursuing and promoting diversity excellence in the workplace,” the company said in a statement. “We are an equal opportunity employer and do not discriminate on the basis of race.” “Mr. Thomas’ three years at GE illustrates the opportunities that the company can provide to its employees,” the company said, noting that he has moved up the ranks to manage a stand-alone operation. Thomas has been president, chairman and CEO of Irving, Texas-based GE Aviation Materials since early 2004. The company is a joint venture between GE and Snecma Services, and is a subsidiary of GE’s Engine Services division. The suit says he served as a commander with the Army’s Green Beret corps, and was later named a White House Fellow during the Clinton administration, working on the staff of Vice President Al Gore. He joined GE in 2001 as a manager at its Connecticut headquarters after working as a consultant at McKinsey & Co. The lawsuit notes that black employees hold less than 5 percent of executive positions. “As of spring 2005, the ‘leadership team’ at GE is a restricted club,” the lawsuit says. Thomas, 43, says in his lawsuit that he led GE Aviation Materials to an 89 percent profit increase in 2004 and a 21 percent rise in sales. But his overhauling of the subsidiary’s merit-based bonus system, in an attempt to make it more fair, drew the ire of managers both inside GE Aviation Materials and at the parent division, the suit says. Thomas accuses the company, which had previously awarded him high performance marks, of retaliating last month by classifying him in its “least effective” ranking. Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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