The NAACP is accusing US Airways, in a lawsuit, of discriminating against African American employees by assigning them to less desirable gates and shifts and by giving work areas dominated by African American employees racially loaded nicknames such as "Compton," "Camden," and "The Ghetto."
Shifts and areas with more white workers are called "Frankford," "South Philly," and "King of Prussia," the suit says.
The suit, which was filed late yesterday in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, claims that US Airways Group Inc. employees and managers openly used the derogatory terms.
Three former airline employees also brought the suit. One of them, Tiffany Salters, a customer-service manager, said she was told that she had to quit her position as secretary of the Camden County branch of the NAACP or lose her job at US Airways.
She felt she was "harassed" by managers because of her work with the NAACP, she said, and ultimately was fired in 2007 for a security lapse she said was not her responsibility.
"It really was bad there," Salters said in an interview today. She said she had been unable to find a job since.
Managers, Salters said, would refer to individual African American employees as being "ghetto" or "hood." She said she was praised for her ability to get along with all sorts of customers. A manager told her she had the "complexion for the connection."
Brian Mildenberg, a lawyer representing the NAACP and the employees, said it was "against the law to have a hostile working environment for a particular minority."
The suit seeks damages for all African American employees, reinstatement of the employees in the suit, an immediate ban on "racial code words," and the appointment of a civil-rights monitor over US Airways' Philadelphia operations.
US Airways has 6,000 employees in Philadelphia. Airline spokesman Morgan Durrant said he did not know how many of the workers were African American.
"We take discrimination very seriously," said Suzanne Boda, the airline's senior vice president/airport customer service, international and cargo. "We have a very strong commitment to diversity and to nondiscrimination."
Boda said assignments to gates were based purely on seniority. "You bid for whatever shift you want to work and where you want to work," she said.
She said she did not know whether African American employees, as a group, had less seniority than whites. She also said she had not heard of the offending nicknames.
Mildenberg said that he had no statistics on the percentage of minority employees in different concourses, but that whites were more likely to staff international and business flights, while African Americans were more likely to be assigned to less desirable commuter flights.
According to the complaint, US Airways managers and employees called Terminal C "Compton" or "Camden." Compton is a California city known for its violence.
Terminal B was "Frankford" and "South Philly." Parts of Terminals A and B were "King of Prussia."
Terminal F, occupied by US Airways subsidiary Piedmont Airlines, was known as "The Ghetto." The remote terminal, the complaint said, has fewer amenities and is perceived to have more minority or lower-income passengers.