Settlement in Bias Suit That Stalled for 37 Years

New York Times reports the settlement of a bias suit that took nearly four decades to grant justice.

By STEVEN GREENHOUSE A federal judge has approved a $6.2 million settlement for black and Hispanic sheet metal workers in a 37-year-old lawsuit against a union that critics have called one of the city’s most notorious for racial discrimination, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced on Tuesday.Judge Robert L. Carter of Federal District Court in Manhattan approved the settlement last week in a lawsuit that charged Local 28 of the Sheet Metal Workers with failing to provide equal employment opportunities.

The settlement is a major step toward ending the suit, in which the federal court had found Local 28 in contempt on four occasions over two decades for repeatedly failing to comply with orders to end discriminatory practices.

“This lawsuit has lasted 37 years because for a very long time the union’s old guard resisted change and would not bring itself into compliance with the court order,” said Jyotin Hamid, a partner with Debevoise & Plimpton, which, with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, represents the black and Hispanic workers in the case.

Local 28 represents 3,000 sheet metal workers in New York City and on Long Island. The workers often install metal ducts in new buildings.

The E.E.O.C. first filed the lawsuit in 1971, and the current settlement compensates 156 black and Hispanic sheet metal workers for lost wages for the years 1984 to 1991. Some workers who faced discrimination in the years before 1984 had previously received lost pay, and the E.E.O.C. is still pursuing claims of lost wages for sheet metal workers who a court expert found were discriminated against in the dozen years after 1991.

Riccardo Iaccarino, a lawyer for Local 28, said the union’s new leaders, who were elected in 2006, had decided to resolve the suit instead of fighting it, as the previous leadership had done for decades.

“This is a historic moment for the union,” Mr. Iaccarino said. “The union’s new business manager, Michael Belluzzi, has decided to work for the betterment of the union for all its members, minority and nonminority.”

The union also agreed to make significant changes in its job-referral system and to create a monitoring system that would help give its members equal access to job opportunities.

“We hope that these developments are an indication that, with the recent change in leadership, the union has decided, after many years of costly litigation, to work with the court and the plaintiffs in obeying the court orders,” said Spencer Lewis, the district director of the E.E.O.C.’s New York office.

The state and the City of New York were also involved in the case.

Until the late 1940s, Local 28 had a provision in its constitution that excluded nonwhites. Even after that provision was removed, according to federal officials, the union continued to discriminate. In 1974, the officials said, minority workers made up 3 percent of the union’s membership.

In 2004, a court expert still saw problems, finding “statistically significant disparity between the hours worked by white and nonwhite members of Local 28.”