Court of appeals issues ruling in discrimination lawsuit

NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - Equal opportunity for all is considered one victory. Another is a total of about $5 1/2-million in back pay going to more than a thousand black Lufkin Industries employees.

Sylvester McClain is one of 13 lead plaintiffs. He first walked into the three lawyer Nacogdoches office of employment law and civil rights attorney Tim Garrigan around 1995.

"I was one heart beat from going into senior management," recalled McClain.

Advancement was flat lined. The quality control supervisor was demoted after 36 years with Lufkin industries. Numerous court decisions support skin color was a factor.

"This lawsuit was filed in behalf of Afro-Americans, but it's for everybody." said McClain.

McClain and Garrigan hold on to the thought that just maybe a 14 year old class action suit is over.

"With a little luck they won't find anything else to drag this out longer," said Garrigan to McClain.

Garrigan highlighted in the judgement the phrase, 'final possible dispute'.

"It's unheard of for one case to appealed so many times. This is the fourth published decision from the case. It has gone up and down through the courts for a long time," said Garrigan.

Now the search begins for minority Lufkin Industries employees who were passed over for a promotion between March 1, 1994 and December 31, 2007.

"There are probably more than a thousand class members, most of them still in East Texas, and they need to know that finally we will be able to distribute about $5-1/2 million in back pay," explained Garrigan.

He's anxious to conduct a class members meeting. McClain plans to distribute fliers in washaterias and churches to spread the word.

Back pay calculations require tedious formulas. The solution will fall short to what McClain says plaintiffs deserve.

"What we expect to receive, it will certainly not pay for the discrimination we suffered." expressed McClain.

"Really, so far, it still seems that Lufkin (Industries) is more interested in paying their lawyers than being fair to their employees," said Garrigan.

The evidence fills Garrigan's bookshelves. Sort of a diary on a fight for equal rights.

And for McClain, a man who grew up during segregation, the door is opened a bit wider for equal employment opportunities.

Earlier Today:

A federal appeals court has issued a ruling in what may be the final dispute in a federal discrimination lawsuit against Lufkin Industries.

In the ruling, a panel of judges denies a challenge from Lufkin Industries to reconsider back pay damages, but does give a district court permission to reconsider attorneys' fee in the award.

[View the complete ruling]

The ruling indicates this may be the final dispute in a lawsuit filed in 1995 concerning a complaint from a black employee that his manager tried to demote him. The complaint led to a class-action lawsuit alleging Lufkin Industries practiced racial discrimination when considering promotions.

Nacogdoches attorney Tim Garrigan represented the plaintiffs, with assistance from a lawyer group in California. The reward for the California attorneys shows to be the final sticking point in the lawsuit.

In a 2009 interview, Garrigan estimated that the plaintiffs will receive about $5 million from the company.

As for the back pay argument, the court stated that anything Lufkin Industries shaved off the damage award would be offset by attorneys' fees the plaintiffs would gain.

"Given this economic reality and the background circumstances, justice is better served by finality," the ruling states.

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