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Xerox executive sues the firm in federal court

Rochester Business Journal
May 14, 2010

A black Xerox Corp. executive is suing the document company, charging that racial motivation was behind his demotion in 2008 and the elimination of the job he was demoted to in March.

In a court complaint that some might see as remarkable for alleging anti-black bias by the first Fortune 500 firm to name a black woman as its CEO, Earl Brown accuses Xerox of going after him for too

zealously guarding the rights of black and Hispanic employees.

When he was demoted in 2008, Brown states in the brief, he had been vice president of human resources in Xerox's strategic services group for some three years. The group has since been expanded and renamed the global business and services group.

In the lawsuit, filed last week in U.S. District Court in Rochester, Brown details clashes with his supervisor, Willem Appelo, president of the global business and services group, and with other managers. Brown claims they downplayed instances when Xerox did not follow its own non-discrimination policies and blamed Brown for fomenting discord when he defended minority employees who had been treated poorly.

Brown also cites a disagreement with Appelo over deployment of a staff-development program that Brown helped implement, calling it proof of racial prejudice at the company.

Citing a policy against speaking about matters in litigation, company spokesman William McKee said Xerox would not comment on Brown's lawsuit.

Brown, a Brighton resident who still works at Xerox's downtown office tower, is a 28-year company veteran. Starting at Xerox in 1982 as an industrial relations manager, he was promoted to vice president of human resources in 2005.

Brown's attorney, Lindy Korn of the Law Office of Lindy Korn Esq. in Buffalo, declined to comment on the lawsuit's details, offering only that she considered Brown "courageous to pursue this complaint, especially for someone who is still at the company."

In Brown's telling, his advocacy for mistreated minorities at Xerox was successful at times but little appreciated by his bosses.

"On the occasions when plaintiff prevailed in protecting the rights of a black or Hispanic employee, he would be accused of being responsible for the issue. When the plaintiff informed his superiors of an issue of race, he would be told that he was too sensitive, that there was no problem or that they are just looking for entitlements," Brown's court brief states.

Brown also claims that he was discriminated against by superiors who "minimized plaintiff's contribution as a human resources professional, disparaged the plaintiff and other African-American employees."

As examples of cases in which Brown's defense of a fellow black worker elicited discriminatory responses "either intentionally or unintentionally" from Brown's bosses, the complaint first describes an incident in which a white woman angrily confronts her manager, a black woman.

Storming into the supervisor's office and "speaking in a loud and angry voice," the white woman is said to have cornered the supervisor behind a desk and gotten "within inches of her face." In response, the supervisor is said to have shouted back, using an obscenity to order her employee to "get the ---- out of my face."

Brown and a human resources manager investigated and determined that the white woman should be demoted and made to take an anger management course but that no action should be taken against the black supervisor, the lawsuit states. But after another employee intervened, Appelo reversed Brown's ruling, keeping the white woman from being demoted while her black supervisor was censured for using the obscenity.

In a second example detailed in the complaint, Brown intervened on behalf of a black woman whose job had been eliminated when the position was moved to Asia. Xerox found a new job for her only after Brown intervened, the complaint states. But in short order she and the black supervisor mentioned in the first incident were laid off, while the woman who had stormed into the black supervisor's office kept her job.

Also described in Brown's legal papers is an incident in which Appelo is alleged to have angrily stormed out of a meeting with Brown after Brown raised concerns about the treatment of a black male worker who believed his supervisor had improperly given him a poor evaluation.

Brown states in legal papers that he was demoted from vice president to an unidentified lower position in September 2008. He was not given a full explanation for the demotion but got "a memo which contained a number of allegations (lacking) specificity and definition," the complaint states.

McKee said this week that Brown is listed in Xerox's internal employee directory as a vice president of human resources, but he declined to clarify Brown's job status from September 2008 to March of this year or to say what Brown's position with the company is now. Korn also declined to discuss specifics of Brown's job title or responsibilities in that period.

Another disagreement that Brown alleges between him and Appelo concerns recommendations Brown made on implementing a staff-development effort known as the Lominger plan.

According to the lawsuit, Brown was on a task force that had been developing the plan since 2005. The effort was supposed to produce procedures that would help HR managers identify and promote workers with high potential.

In several tests of employee evaluations using the Lominger model, the court brief states, black and older workers consistently came out at the bottom. And because of that result, Brown opposed use of the model for compensation decisions.

Despite Brown's opposition, the task force recommended to Ursula Burns, then Xerox's president and now CEO, that the Lominger model be used to determine employees' pay, bonuses and stock awards.

Burns agreed to do so after receiving the recommendation at a meeting that Brown and William Castle, Xerox vice president of human resources, were unable to attend, but later she seemed to favor Brown's position, the court papers say.

The brief says that when Brown called Burns to press his point, she told him, "That's what I expect you and Bill (Castle) to do, to make sure that we do not get into trouble with this."

A rollout instructing managers to use the Lominger plan to set employee compensation came after Appelo's demotion of Brown in September 2008. In the Lominger rollout, Brown's complaint alleges, Appelo refused to let Brown attend Lominger training, prevented other African-American HR managers from attending and had the black HR managers taken off their jobs.

Brown seeks $300,000 in punitive damages for "pain, suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, humiliation and other injuries" resulting from Xerox's alleged discrimination against him. He also asks to be promoted back to the position he held in 2008, given back pay and benefits and reimbursed for unspecified amounts spent on medical treatments related to stress and anxiety brought on by alleged mistreatment.


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