The struggle continues

Railroad and insurance companies join the list of defendants in racial-discrimination suits

African Americans are still fighting for their rights, but these days, instead of taking to the streets with picket signs, they are taking their gripes to the courts. In the wake of Coca-Cola’s highly publicized discrimination lawsuits come a host of other race-based lawsuits, including ones against Amtrak and a string of life insurance companies.

In the 1960s, African Americans were charged 25% or more above the rates charged to whites for life insurance policies because mortality tables showed shorter life expectancies for blacks. There are at least six companies involved in suits now, including United Insurance Co. of America, Monumental Life Insurance Co., Liberty National Life Insurance Co., Life Insurance Co. of Georgia, and, most recently, Prudential Insurance Co. and MetLife Inc. American General Corp., based in Houston, recently settled, agreeing to pay $215 million: $206 million in compensation to policyholders; $7.5 million in the form of a sanction that will be distributed to states based on the number of affected policyholders in each; and $2 million to the NAACP.

Racism on the rails is not being fought as successfully. Amtrak officials have asked a U.S. District Court judge to dismiss a class-action suit filed by African American railroad workers across the country. These workers charged that they were subjected to hostile work conditions and denied opportunities for advancement because of their race.

The case of Campbell vs. National Railroad Passenger Corp. filed by black Amtrak service attendants, ticket agents, engineers, and conductors marks the third class-action suit filed against the rail carrier over the past year.

Amtrak has filed motions in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., to dismiss most of the case. Judge Emmet G. Sullivan is hearing the case in November.Last year, a group of black Amtrak managers won an $8 million settlement, and black trackmen in Amtrak’s Northeast corridor, which runs from Washington, D.C., to Boston, filed a case that is pending.

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