A discrimination lawsuit brought by African-American workers against Boeing is heading to court again, nearly seven years after it was initially...

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A discrimination lawsuit brought by African-American workers against Boeing is heading to court again, nearly seven years after it was initially filed.

A U.S. District Court judge last week certified a class-action lawsuit on behalf of about 15,000 employees who said they were denied equal pay and job promotions because of their race. The class covers black employees who worked for the company from June 1994 to the present, excluding executives and some union-represented technicians.

The case was first filed in March 1998 by 41 workers who said they had fewer opportunities for pay raises and advancement than their white counterparts, and that they were retaliated against for complaining.

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The Rev. Jesse Jackson took part in negotiating the 1999 settlement, which by then covered two lawsuits and represented black employees in all of Boeing’s U.S. operations. The company admitted no wrongdoing but agreed to pay between $10.5 million and $15 million and change its hiring and promotion practices.

Some of the class members appealed the settlement, disputing the $4 million legal fee and claiming that the money was being unfairly distributed. An appeals court agreed, sending the case back to federal court in 2003.

The complaint covers current and former employees from Boeing facilities nationwide but not those acquired in the late 1990s and 2000, when the company bought Rockwell International, McDonnell Douglas and parts of Hughes Electronics.

Steve Berman, who is now handling the case, said his firm filed another class-action suit in Chicago yesterday on behalf of the Boeing employees who came from the acquired companies.

In court papers, black employees describe a racially hostile culture where the “N” word was tossed around casually and where African Americans were paid less than white workers for doing the same work. They also said they were stuck in lower-paying positions longer than white employees with equal or less experience.

Boeing has steadfastly denied that it discriminates against any protected class. The company downplayed the class-action certification, which was granted by U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Pechman on Friday.

“[It’s] only a procedural ruling and it is not based on the merits or the claims made within the complaint,” spokesman Ken Mercer said yesterday.

Last summer a federal jury ruled in favor of Boeing in a class-action bias suit brought by Afghani, Pakistani, Iranian and other minorities. The plaintiffs were unable to prove that the company denied them equal pay and promotions because of their race or national origin.

Days earlier, however, Boeing settled a gender-discrimination suit brought on behalf of 28,000 women working in the Puget Sound area. The company denied wrongdoing but agreed to pay up to $72.5 million and change its hiring, promotions and complaint practices.

Barring another settlement, the race-bias case is set to go to trial in December.

Shirleen Holt: 206-464-8316 or sholt@seattletimes.com