Business

Piedmont Natural Gas employee claims bias

The entrance to the Charlotte headquarters of Piedmont Natural Gas.
The entrance to the Charlotte headquarters of Piedmont Natural Gas. mhames@charlotteobserver.com

An Asian Indian employee of Charlotte’s Piedmont Natural Gas claims in a federal lawsuit that the utility has discriminated against her because of her ethnicity.

Darshana Hawks names Piedmont and three white supervisors in her complaint, which was initially filed in state court. She says she’s been denied promotions that went to less-qualified white employees and subjected to unfair working conditions.

Piedmont filed a response denying most of Hawks’ claims and saying the defendants “acted in good faith and with legitimate business reasons for their actions.” A spokesman declined to comment on the ongoing litigation.

Hawks, 49, has worked for 15 years in Piedmont’s information services department and says she has received excellent job reviews. She later worked as a supervisor for more than five years.

In a reorganization of the department last year, her complaint says, she was demoted to a position she had held in 2000 and placed under a less experienced white supervisor.

Hawks said the demotion was part of a years-long pattern and that, following the reorganization, the company halted her practice of working at home on some days and assigned her to difficult projects.

Piedmont acknowledges Hawks was the only supervisor demoted in the reorganization and that her new boss had less work experience. It confirms that two other Indian employees quit afterward after complaining to human resource managers but denies any discrimination.

It denies her claim that the company has a “systemic discrimination against non-whites in the IS department” and that she was subjected to unwarranted working conditions.

Julie Fosbinder, the attorney representing Hawks, said a charge Hawks filed last year with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is still before the federal agency after mediation failed to resolve it. Fosbinder said she she is representing another Indian in charges against Piedmont before the EEOC.

Fosbinder said the cases are part of a larger pattern in which “companies are perfectly willing to hire Asian Indians, particularly in information technology, but when it comes to promoting them to management, that’s when they bump up against a glass ceiling.”

Duke Energy is awaiting approval from the N.C. Utilities Commission to acquire Piedmont for $4.9 billion and assume $1.8 billion in debt. The deal is expected to close by the end of this year.

Bruce Henderson: 704-358-5051, @bhender

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