Compass faces $200m racial discrimination suit

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The Independent Online

Compass, the British catering giant, will be served with a $200m (£130m) class-action lawsuit today alleging systemic racial discrimination against black workers in the United States.

The FTSE-100 company is accused of allowing managers at its business in Philadelphia to racially abuse, discriminate against and harass African-American employees. Compass declined to comment. The law suit, to be filed in the US district court for the eastern district of Pennsylvania, has been brought by 11 current and former employees in Compass's catering operation at Philadelphia's Comcast Center, the city's tallest building, which opened in June. If the plaintiffs' request for the case to be made a class action tried by jury is granted by the court, it could draw in more members of the proposed class.

The world's biggest catering company is accused of failing to stop its black employees at the Comcast Center from being called names such as "nigger", "monkey" and "gorilla". Among other claims, it is alleged that black staff were forced to eat lunch in the locker room and to clean up after white workers. At the centre of the complaints is Derek Vogelman, Compass's executive chef at the landmark tower. It is alleged that Mr Vogelman routinely used racist language towards black employees, including referring to them as "Chim-Chim", the name of a pet chimpanzee in the film Speed Racer.

Mr Vogelman is also accused of referring to fast-working black emp-loyees as "Carl Lewis", the name of the former black Olympic sprint champion. The plaintiffs claim Mr Vogelman carried on using racist language when asked to stop and that his managers refused to take action to change his behaviour.

The lawsuit also alleges that Compass's Flik division, which has the Comcast Center contract, only allows white employees to work in front of guests at private catering functions at the tower, with black staff consigned to the kitchen or excluded entirely.

Compass allegedly brought in white employees from another of its subsidiaries to work front of house at events at the Comcast Center to avoid African-Americans serving guests directly. The plaintiffs claim they and other black employees complained to Compass's management and human resources in the US about discrimination. They allege that the company's investigations were "inadequate and superficial" and that Compass failed to put in place procedures to detect and correct discriminatory practices.