By Andy Patrizio, 11/05/01

Apple Computer has been slapped with a $40 million racial discrimination lawsuit charging that the company unfairly sacked an African-American employee.

Described by the plaintiff’s attorney as “one the largest racial discrimination cases in U.S. history,” the suit alleges the former employee was denied promotions and standard perks, isolated from co-workers and then fired for a trivial offense.

The suit was filed on Oct. 30 in Santa Clara County Superior Court.

The plaintiff, who did not reveal his name because he is currently looking for work, was an Apple employee from 1998 until he was fired in July this year. He worked as a product design engineer.

The suit alleges the plaintiff was fired after he brought a friend to work earlier this year to encourage him to pursue a college education.

“I think he has a strong case for discrimination and wrongful termination,” said Waukeen Q. McCoy, the plaintiff’s attorney.

“His white counterparts have not been disciplined or terminated for bringing a friend or family member to campus, and this is a pretextual way for them to get him out of the company,” McCoy added. “We also believe he was getting less pay than his white counterparts as well.”

After bringing the friend to Apple’s campus, the plaintiff was suspended, McCoy said. The company launched an investigation before terminating the employee. He is currently looking for work in Silicon Valley.

McCoy said the employee had no prior problems and had an “above average” work record.

When Riccio took control of the plaintiff’s department, he immediately moved the plaintiff into a separate cubicle away from the rest of his group for no apparent reason, McCoy claimed. At the time, the plaintiff said nothing, not wanting to rock the boat, said McCoy.

McCoy has a track record for successfully prosecuting racial discrimination lawsuits. He was the lead plaintiff’s attorney in the largest racial discrimination suit in U.S. history: Carroll v. Interstate Brands Corporation.

Interstate Brands, makers of Wonder Bread and other consumer foods, was sued by 15 African-American employees for refusing to hire and promote black employees.

In August 2000, a jury awarded the plaintiffs $135 million. The case was voted “Verdict of the Year” by Verdicts & Settlements Magazine.

McCoy said he would be willing to settle if Apple made a reasonable offer. But Apple has so far failed to respond to letters McCoy has sent, he said.

“I think this is certainly something that corporate America should look at and think twice about doing to someone, singling them out like this,” he said.

An Apple spokesperson declined to comment on the case, citing a company policy of not discussing pending litigation.