A federal jury has ruled that Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. discriminated against a white former maintenance manager at its old Landover coffee-roasting plant because of his race and awarded him $24,200 in expenses, with the recommendation that he be paid another $61,000 in back pay.
In his reverse discrimination suit, John Sullivan said he was hired in 1999, only to be demoted and replaced by a black subordinate. He claimed an African American supervisor fired him in November 2002 because he is white.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Baltimore in 2005.
The jury reached a verdict on Monday for $24,200 in out-of-pocket expenses and approximately $61,000 for a year's back pay. But the jury's award for back pay is advisory and U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul W. Grimm will make the final judgment, according to court documents.
A&P;, which operates its namesake grocery chain along with Super Fresh and other supermarket chains, sold its Eight O'Clock coffee business and the Landover plant in 2003.
A&P; spokesman Richard P. De Santa said the company is considering an appeal.
"We maintain that Mr. Sullivan was not discriminated against based on his race," De Santa said yesterday from company headquarters in Montvale, N.J.
John M. Singleton, an Owings Mills attorney representing Sullivan, who now lives in Pennsylvania, said yesterday his client was disappointed that the jury did not award compensatory and punitive damages, which the lawsuit sought.
Still, Singleton called the favorable verdict of a so-called reverse discrimination case "remarkable."
"And to the degree that they came out and said, 'This is what happened to this guy,' and in today's environment, especially, where it may not be politically correct to say this is what happened here," Singleton said.
About 10 percent of race discrimination complaints received by the EEOC are from whites, or 2,628 out of the 27,238 claims made nationally in the past fiscal year. Race-based claims are the most frequent type of complaints filed with the EEOC, and most are filed by African Americans, the agency said.
Regina M. Andrew, an EEOC attorney in Baltimore involved in the case, said the agency plans to file a post-trial motion asking for an injunction, preventing A&P; from similar employment practices.
In the lawsuit, Sullivan also claimed A&P; fired him in retaliation for taking his complaint to the EEOC. The lawsuit also accused A&P; of breaking a settlement it reached with Sullivan in March 2002 - before his firing - when the company agreed to increase his salary and compensate him for back pay. The jury, however, rejected those claims.