Jury awards $314,000 in discrimination suit

By BRAD GASKINS/Staff Writer

A federal jury on Wednesday, Jan. 19 delivered a verdict in a racially-charged civil case brought against the Chemical Lime Company by a Shelby County man who worked at the company’s Calera plant.

Following a trial in U.S. District Court in Birmingham, the jury ruled in Albert J. Thomas’ favor in just one of eight counts.

Thomas, who is black, was awarded a $314,000 ruling after the jury decided he was terminated in retaliation for filing a charge against the company with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

“We respectfully do not agree with the jury’s verdict in regard to the eighth allegation,” said Birmingham lawyer Jeff Strarling, who represents Chemical Lime. “We are further evaluating that decision and are considering an appeal.”

In Thomas’ charge to the EEOC, he claimed he was the victim of race and age discrimination.

“It should be emphasized that Mr. Thomas’ allegations were just that – allegations,” Starling said. “Anyone is free to make allegations. That doesn’t mean they are true and the jury apparently agreed by rejecting seven of the eight allegations.”

Thomas lives in Pelham and grew up in Alabaster, said his lawyer, Jon C. Goldfarb of Birmingham.

“He’s a great guy,” Goldfarb said.

Thomas filed the original complaint in Jan. 2010, a little more than a year after he was terminated after 25 years of service. Thomas started as a laborer and advanced to control room operator at $20.33 an hour.

He was fired Dec. 22, 2008, according to the complaint.

In the complaint, Thomas alleged that in the summer of 2008 he found white rags made to look like Ku Klux Klan hoods. He alleged his supervisor held up one of the hoods and made inappropriate comments a gestures.

Thomas also claimed younger white employees were allowed to work overtime while he was not.

The complaint also stated that the company accused Thomas of violating company policy on Aug. 1,2008 and demoted him to laborer with reduced pay at $14.90 per hour. A younger white employee was moved to Thomas’ former position, according to his complaint.