An out-of-court settlement has tentatively been reached in a class-action suit that alleges racial discrimination in some of the hiring and employment practices of the American National Red Cross.
The magnitude of the settlement is not yet known, but attorneys estimate that anywhere from 60 to more than 100 persons - many of them from the Washington area - will be eligible to collect damages as a result of the agreement.
The class-action suit, brought by black Red Cross employe Charles W. Arnett in 1976, charges that "throughout (Arnett's) employment with the Red Cross, he, as other black employes, has been limited in his job assignments and has continously been denied promotions and advancements to better job positions because of his race and color."
Although the details of the agreement are still being worked out, attorneys on both sides said the out-of-court settlement is all but final, subject to court approval.
A spokesman for the American National Red Cross denied the racial discrimination charges but added, "This is simply an attempt to cut costs as much as possible. It's expensive to try a case like this. Red Cross depends on donations. We can't afford to put up a grandiose front. We feel this is preferable to the alternative of going through a full-blown trial."
Attorneys are currently trying to find persons eligible to share in the settlement. Many of those individuals are expected to be from the metropolitan area since the Red Cross maintains its national headquarters in the District and a national field office in Alexandria.
U.S. District Court Judge Charles R. Richey of the District of Columbia has defined those eligible to participate in the class action as "all black applicants (except those who hold or have held non-supervisory positions with the Red Cross) who have applied for supervisory positions and all black supervisory employes, who have applied for employment or who have been employed by the Red Cross at any time since June 1, 1969, and who have been discriminated against by the Red Cross on the basis of race or color."
Red Cross was ordered by Richey to place classified advertisements in four newspapers - The Washington Post, The Atlanta Constitution, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch and The San Francisco Chronicle - explaining that anyone who falls into this category can join the class action and may be entitled to benefits as a result of the suit. The ads appeared earlier this month.
But Louis J. Ebert, one of Arnett's attorneys, said, "I don't think this notice will be very effective since most people don't read the classifieds. We're basically trying to draw people out of the woodwork to find potential class members."
Ebert described his client as "a black male who has been with the Red Cross for about 30 years and has felt subject to racial discrimination his entire career."
Arnett has held a variety of positions at Red Cross, including his current post as a field director in Fort Bragg, N.C. "After 30 years, he (Arnett) has only reached a mid-level position, and I hate to even call it 'mid-level,'" Ebert said.
"The basic problem is that whites who've been at Red Cross for 30 years have either moved up the ladder or are now working in the Washington national headquarters," he added. "We believe we have statistics that show blacks have moved up the ladder much more slowly."
On the impetus of Richey and U.S. District Court Magistrate Lawrence S. Margolis, attorneys for both parties agreed to the tentative settlement last month.
Initially Arnett's attorneys wanted the class action to include all blacks at the American National Red Cross, but Richey eventually narrowed the class to its present supervisory grouping.
The dollar amount of the settlement will be determined through a complicated formula in which class members will receive a certain amount for each year of service. Damages will only be assessed from 1969 on.
All class members will have to show that they were discriminated against before they can collect damages. If a class member's entitlement to damages is challenged, a binding arbitration hearing will be held to resolve the dispute.
Those who meet the qualifications to become a class member and wish to do so should mail a notice to that effect to Margolis at the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia, Constitution Avenue and John Marshall Place [WORD ILLEGIBLE] Washington, D.C., 20001.
Potential class members also can choose to opt out of the class action and bring suit on their own. Ebert said he knows of at least person who plans to pursue that course of action.
Ebert said the case should be completed by early October.