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The claims of a fired BellSouth Corp. attorney who is suing the company for racial discrimination provoked sharp skepticism among federal appeals judges Thursday, with one judge saying the lawyer deserved to be fired for her mistakes. Lisa B. Hogan, who has represented IBM and worked for a U.S. Attorney, claims BellSouth recruited her to increase racial diversity in its legal department, but discrimination led to her firing two years later. Hogan is African-American. Hogan’s suit targeted — and opened a window on — one of the best-publicized, most vocal corporate supporters of diversity in legal hiring. Hogan was hired by former BellSouth General Counsel Charles R. Morgan as he spearheaded a campaign to make corporate legal departments more racially diverse. BellSouth won summary judgment from Judge Richard W. Story of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. Hogan appealed to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and Judges Stanley F. Birch Jr. and Edward E. Carnes and Senior Judge Peter T. Fay heard Hogan v. BellSouth Corp., No. 04-14475, on Thursday morning. Judges Stanley F. Birch Jr. and Edward E. Carnes began by asking Hogan’s attorney, Charles R. Bridgers, how he could prove that BellSouth didn’t fire Hogan simply for disobeying orders and doing her job poorly. Carnes zeroed in on a phone meeting between Hogan and the general counsel for Florida’s state utility commission, a key contact for BellSouth’s business. According to BellSouth’s appeals brief, the meeting ended with the general counsel hanging up on Hogan. “I don’t see why they didn’t fire her the instant that guy slams down the phone,” Carnes told Bridgers. “I don’t see why any company should have to put up with that … she, as an employee, is costing this corporation.” Later, Carnes wondered why BellSouth had proposed a mentoring program for Hogan in response to what the company claimed were problems with her job performance. “We’re in litigation because [BellSouth] went the extra mile,” Carnes said “If they had fired her sooner, I’m not sure [Hogan] would have gotten past the district court.” James H. Coil III of Kilpatrick Stockton, who argued the case for BellSouth, said race played no role in Morgan’s decision to fire Hogan in 2000. “This was a lawyer who was not providing good client service and was not taking responsibility for it,” Coil told the judges. “Client acceptance, trust and respect are part of being a good lawyer for BellSouth.” Hogan, who now works for Coffey & Wright in Miami, attended the oral argument. She declined to be interviewed for this article. She has a master’s in public administration from Harvard University and a law degree from the University of Texas. According to her appeals brief, she has worked for New York’s Hughes Hubbard & Reed, represented IBM and worked for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of Florida. Fortune magazine has ranked BellSouth among its best companies for minorities for six consecutive years, said BellSouth spokesman Jeff Battcher. BellSouth also received the highest score of any telecommunications company rated for minority hiring, promotion and retention in the NAACP’s most recent corporate report card, Battcher said. In 1999, BellSouth GC Morgan wrote a statement promoting diversity within law firms. About 460 chief legal officers, representing some of the nation’s most-prominent corporations, signed the pledge. Morgan went to the White House that same year to support President Clinton’s call for the legal profession to improve diversity. The year before, Hogan was recruited by BellSouth’s legal department, a process that included a meeting with Morgan. Hogan’s appeals brief quoted her as saying Morgan told her that BellSouth’s diversity program “was not supported throughout the legal department and that she would be the first minority attorney hired by the company in more than five years and thus he anticipated that she would encounter racial obstacles.” According to Hogan’s appeals brief, other attorneys mocked Morgan and his policies. Attorneys said hiring more women and minorities would hurt the quality of the legal staff, and her colleagues and supervisors poisoned her prospects with inaccurate, unfair evaluations of her work. According to the brief, one employee told Hogan that “her culture” would prevent her from advancing with the company. She said that discrimination led to her being turned down for a promotion, then fired. Morgan, who left the company in 2004, could not be reached. Bridgers, Hogan’s attorney, said in an interview, “Up and down the chain of authority, she encountered people who didn’t like the company’s diversity policies.” Bridgers added, “Ms. Hogan’s legal work was excellent, and the reasons given for BellSouth’s actions were false. … We would look forward to going to trial to prove the allegations.” BellSouth’s brief said that it had legitimate reasons for firing Hogan and that race played no role in the decision. Morgan made the decision to fire Hogan, Coil told the appeals panel on Thursday, saying the general counsel showed no racial bias. “There is not a shred of evidence anywhere in the record that shows anything like that,” Coil said. BellSouth’s appeals brief quoted BellSouth Telecommunications General Counsel Jeffrey Brown as saying in a deposition, “I never heard anybody object to the notion of diversity, but it is fair to say that Mr. Morgan was passionate about it and it came up at almost any occasion where he had a speaking part at a department function or anything. … Frankly all of us observed that seemed to be the only thing he wanted to talk about.” BellSouth’s appeals brief said the company did not promote Hogan “because of deficiencies in her performance working with clients, her adversarial nature, her unwillingness to accept criticism or take advice, and her unwillingness to work as part of a team.” Morgan also made the ultimate decision to fire Hogan, the BellSouth brief said. BellSouth spokesman Battcher said after oral arguments, “We believe that the magistrate judge and the district court judge got it right, and the case should be affirmed.”

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