Judge denies class-action status for discrimination suit against Comcast but claims will be litigated

A federal judge based in Philadelphia denied a former Comcast Corp. call center employee's bid for a class-action discrimination suit.

The former employee, Wilbert Spencer Jr., says in the lawsuit that Comcast managers fired him for hanging up on a customer at the Newark, Del., call center after he lodged a discrimination complaint against his managers over a bad employee review.

Comcast managers tried to "cover up" the incident when the Delaware Department of Labor sought information on Spencer's termination for his unemployment insurance, the suit claimed.

U.S. District Judge R. Barclay Surrick in February denied class certification of the case — Spencer's case lacks the names of any other employees who were similarly discriminated against at the Delaware call center — and one count in the lawsuit.

The five other counts in the suit alleged by Spencer, including retaliating against him and maintaining a hostile work environment, will be litigated, according to court documents.

"Comcast adamantly denies the allegations in this case, and we will defend ourselves vigorously in court," a company spokeswoman said in a statement this week. "This case has not been certified as a class action, but rather has been brought by one former employee. Comcast is committed to the fair and equitable treatment of all of our employees.

"We have an exemplary long-standing track record of nondiscrimination and treating our employees fairly, professionally, and with the utmost respect, and we stand by that record."

Justin Robinette, Spencer's lawyer with Post & Post in Berwyn, said that "although a minor part of the case is gone, we are happy that the case is moving forward, and I hope Mr. Spencer can have his day in court soon on all of the remaining discrimination and retaliation claims."

Robinette said that he believed "the judge has left the door open to certify a class action with more victims at a later date."

Last February, Comcast settled a discrimination class-action lawsuit brought by African American employees at its South Chicago facility for $7.2 million as the case was about to go to trial, according to court documents and published reports. The case had been filed in 2011.

Ninety percent of the employees at the facility were African American. The suit claimed that Comcast didn't promote or train employees there, subjected them to a hostile workplace, and denied them adequate tools and equipment to do their jobs. The suit also said that the South Chicago employees were disproportionately targeted with an internal disciplinary system. Court documents show that Comcast headquarters had instructed local managers to discontinue the use of the system, but that they did not.

Spencer, 55, who began at Comcast in June 2004 in the New Castle call center, complained of discrimination March 13 and 17, 2015, after an annual employee review that graded him poorly for cultural diversity, motivation, and interpersonal communication skills, the suit says.

Two Comcast managers were scheduled to meet with Spencer over his complaints March 27. Comcast fired him three days later. The suit also claims that in early June, when the Delaware Department of Labor requested information from Comcast as it investigated his request for unemployment insurance, Comcast did not provide the information.

The company altered Spencer's March 17 complaint, submitted to an internal database, so that it did not say "discrimination" or "retaliation" but instead "unfair treatment (not discrimination)," the suit says.

The suit also claims that there is a "near-total absence of African-American/black employees from all but the lower echelons" of Comcast's workforce at the Newark and New Castle call centers.

Although Comcast told Spencer it was firing him for hanging up on a customer, the suit claims that "several white/Caucasian employees regularly hang up on irate customers."