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Fifteen black employees at a Whirlpool Corp. factory are moving ahead with a two-year-old federal lawsuit, after meditation talks failed to resolve claims they have been passed over for promotions and subjected to racial discrimination. A dozen white workers at the same factory have come forward to corroborate their claims, attorneys representing the black workers said Wednesday. Whirlpool officials said the claims are untrue and were investigated by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which found no probable cause to support them. “They were found to be without merit,” spokesman Tom Kline said in a statement issued Wednesday from the company’s headquarters in Michigan. “We continue to believe the lawsuit is simply an effort to assert those same unfounded claims. And we intend to vigorously defend ourselves against them, and we do expect to prevail.” Lawyers for the workers said the EEOC did not make a finding in the case. Whirlpool, a leading manufacturer of major home appliances, is committed to fostering a diverse and dignified work environment, Kline said. The employees are suing over conditions at a La Vergne plant that makes room air conditioners, built-in refrigerators, air purifiers and dehumidifiers and employs more than 1,000. The suit was filed in 2003, but the case was suspended while the sides were mediating, court records show. Those talks broke down this week. One of those suing, quality technician Henry Beasley, said racist graffiti is allowed to remain on bathroom walls for weeks. He said blacks’ ID cards are checked by security guards while whites walk past, blacks are disciplined for minor infractions while whites are not and racial epithets are used frequently by other workers. Larry Schuster, 32, a white former Whirlpool worker, backed up one of the allegations. “When someone can holler [the n-word] across the warehouse, it should have been nipped in the bud right away,” he said. Beasley, 50, said the discrimination has gotten worse since he started working at the plant in 1984. “I went numerous times to speak with anybody who could talk to me, from the vice president to the director of human resources over and over again, and it never changed,” Beasley said. “They’d say, ‘We’re working on it.’ Or, ‘We’re looking at it.’” Lawyers for the plaintiffs say they will seek a jury trial, damages of more than $50 million and a court order to correct the alleged inequality. Whirlpool was sued by Muslim employees who said they weren’t allowed to take prayer breaks, but a federal court jury decided in favor of the company in 2004. Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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