$3.5 Million lawsuit points finger at Black firm

A racial discrimination and retaliation lawsuit has been filed against the nation’s largest black-owned company, World Wide Technology (No. 1 on the BE industrial/service 100 list with $2.1 billion in sales).

Former WWT employee Ernest Ryals, 34, claims that after he led dozens of co-workers in filing complaints of discrimination at the company’s Austin, Texas, facility in January 2006, he was fired a year later for allegedly sexually harassing a female subordinate. He filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, but it was dismissed for lack of direct evidence. However, in November, Ryals filed a lawsuit, seeking $3.5 million in damages. Though the company is black-owned, and Ryals is African American, he claims he was passed over for a supervisory position that was given to a white woman. Ryals says the lawsuit charges WWT’s all-white Austin management with racial discrimination when promoting workers.

WWT spokesman Edward Levens says, “The company does not make public statements on personnel or legal matters.”

Based in St. Louis, WWT has 1,090 employees and 29 U.S. locations. BE obtained an August 2007 company-wide WWT employee survey that found that 21% of the company’s employees agreed that they have seen or experienced discrimination, and 23% disagreed that there was opportunity for advancement.

Ryals says he never acted improperly with the woman at the center of the sexual harassment allegations, and that no formal complaint was made against him. “I was never given a chance to defend myself,” Ryals says. “I was just terminated.”

The case is scheduled to go to trial this fall.