Eleven black men stood up and refused to be held down in 1974. They demanded an end to discriminatory hiring and promotional practices, as well as unequal training and development at MLGW. These heroes courageously filed a lawsuit that led to a Consent Decree ensuring MLGW's compliance with the Justice Department's equal-opportunity mandate.
The 11 plaintiffs in this groundbreaking legal action were honored as part of Black History Month at a Commemoration Celebration at MLGW's Board meeting, Thursday, Feb. 15. They were honored with plaques placed at both MLGW University at the Training Center and in the Administration Building's MLGW Museum. Two surviving members and the heirs of nine deceased members of the original 11 received replica plaques honoring their efforts. The MLGW Board of Commissioners adopted a resolution honoring the 11 men at the meeting.
The lawsuit was filed January 15, 1974 by Lonzola Armmer, Robert Cummings, Athan Fletcher, Melvin Herron, Junior Holloway, James T. Johnson, Ozell Johnson, O' Neal Jones, James Mayo, Joseph Townsend and George Washington as Lonzola Armmer et. al. vs. Memphis Light, Gas and Water. On March 12, 1974, the lawsuit was amended to include 50 additional employees and granted "Class" status. In October 1974, Local 1288 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), the bargaining unit that represents much of the utility's work force, was added as a defendant in the lawsuit. Mr. Washington is still employed by MLGW, and works as a Machine Operator in the gas division. He has been with the utility since 1950.
The lawsuit went to trial in August 1976. MLGW, IBEW Local 1288 and the Justice Department entered into a five-year Consent Decree that was extended until 1984. The Division achieved substantial compliance with the provisions of the decree; therefore, it was dissolved by the court in 1984.
Today, as a result of the courageous actions of these 11 employees and subsequent programs implemented by the Division, along with IBEW Local 1288, MLGW is the premier organization in the city for employee development and diversity. The processes for selection and promotion ensure equal opportunities for all employees, providing career development with the focus on upward mobility, and a workforce with diversity at every level that mirrors the customers we serve.