The Asian and Middle Eastern American Coalition (AMEA) is organizing a boycott of Detroit Edison in support of eight Arab and Asian employees, who filed a discrimination lawsuit in Wayne County Circuit Court against the company last February. The plaintiffs say they have been denied promotions and pay increases because of their national origins.
According to the AMEA, Asians and Arabs make up 12 percent of Edison's customer base. With the impending deregulation of the electric power industry, the coalition says it may take its business elsewhere.
"We believe that whoever wanted to practice discrimination in any form, they should realize it will be costly," says Imad Hamad, divisional director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, which is part of the coalition. The Asian American Center for Justice, Chaldean Discrimination Committee, Chaldean Federation of America and the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan also are part of the AMEA.
Detroit Edison spokesman Lew Laton says that the company intends to proceed with the litigation and that the lawsuit and the coalitions' concerns are separate issues. He also says that Edison has not discriminated against its Arab and Asian employees.
"Detroit Edison has throughout its existence been a responsible corporate citizen and works with all communities we serve," he says.
Raza Babar, a 20-year employee who is suing the company, says that those involved in the lawsuit are not part of the boycott.
"We do not want to tell them not to do it, but want to be very clear that they are two separate actions," he explains.
The same month Arab and Asian workers sued Edison, the company reached agreement with 3,500 employees who sued the company for race, age and sex discrimination. An arbitrator is to decide on a settlement between $17 million and $65 million, which will be divided among those plaintiffs. That was the second major class action lawsuit filed against the company. In 1973, African-American workers sued Edison for race discrimination and received a $5 million settlement.