Media firm Reuters and two related companies in the United States have been hit by complaints alleging a culture of racial discrimination and abuse.
Lawyer Johnnie Cochran wants a class-action lawsuit
One former and two current black employees of computer network provider Radianz, a joint venture between Reuters and data firm Equant, filed cases at the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and with a New York court.
According to the complaints, one employee was paid less than white colleagues, the second was fired unfairly, and the third was routinely called "nigger" at work and sent abusive e-mails.
The three firms, which are all named in the complaint, have denied wrongdoing and insisted that they condemned workplace racism.
Pointing out that Radianz was a separate legal entity from Reuters and Equant, Radianz contended that "the attempt by these individuals' lawyers to interject Reuters and Equant into this matter is inappropriate and appears to be a bald attempt to draw attention to this matter by naming more well-known and larger entities."
According to US practice, the EEOC must first investigate the case before it can proceed to court.
Johnnie Cochran, one of the lawyers representing the three employees, said he hoped to build the case into a class-action lawsuit, asking for "substantial damages".
He has already produced as evidence a number of offensive e-mails, which he said were sent to the plaintiffs.
In one, the employee's face was superimposed on a
caricature that depicted him with a noose around his neck, an over-sized penis, and a beer bottle in his hand.
Companies have previously been penalised for the offensive content of e-mails, even if those messages were sent without the knowledge of management.
But Reuters said that the case against it should be dismissed on the grounds that Radianz is legally separate.
Radianz, meanwhile, said it was satisfied that it had done nothing wrong, and implied that the complainants were pursuing the case maliciously.