Last Updated on August 25, 2022
A former American Express employee filed a class-action complaint Tuesday alleging that the credit card company exhibited “callous indifference” to civil rights law by firing him because he is White and spoke out against its “racially discriminatory” policies, according to a report from Fox News.
Brian Netzel, who was terminated by the company in 2020 after working there for a decade, told Fox Business that he is suing on behalf of himself and potentially thousands of other employees following “an avalanche of bad things coming to White people in that company once George Floyd was killed.”
The lawsuit alleges that American Express instituted several “anti-racist” policies as racial tensions were elevated during the George Floyd riots in 2020. These policies gave “preferential treatment to individuals for being Black and unambiguously signaled to White employees that their race was an impediment to getting ahead in the company,” the complaint alleges.
According to Netzel, these policies led to “a tremendous amount of animosity” in which White employees were unfairly punished or passed over for promotions. At the same time, some Black employees were promoted specifically to meet racial hiring quotas and employees were encouraged to “root out in McCarthy-era fashion people who didn’t agree with this overall philosophy.”
The former American Express employee blamed company leadership for implementing the anti-white polices. Netzel pointed to company town halls in which CEO Stephen Squeri reportedly engaged “what amounted to an emotional tirade against police, against systemic racism in the U.S. and within American Express.”
“He made it clear that you needed to fight this with him, or you needed to find another place to work,” Netzel said of Squeri, who has led the company since 2018.
Netzel claims that this created an atmosphere in which White employees were treated differently and forced to undergo trainings on how to properly address Black coworkers.
“We weren’t allowed to talk before they talked in a meeting,” he said. Employees were also instructed not to do things like touching a Black employee’s hair, as if such a thing was a frequent occurrence. According to the lawsuit, “no admonishments were given to Black employees nor did the trainings direct Black employees on how they should conduct themselves around other races.”
The former employee also noted that Squeri explicitly announced his intention to hire Black employees for senior leadership positions.
The complaint also points to a female manager, who is Black, who would “aggressively harass and berate White employees,” overworking them and retaliating with poor performance reviews. Netzel claims that American Express was aware of her conduct, and that she was one of the executives who received financial incentives to reduce the number of White people in her department.
American Express has pushed back on Netzel’s claims, calling them “false and without merit,” Fox News reported. A company spokesman told Fox Business that the company has a “longstanding commitment to living our company values, which include fostering a diverse and inclusive culture where all colleagues can thrive.”
The spokesman claimed that American Express does not incentivize discriminatory behavior against employees of any ethnicity, and also pushed back against any claim that advancement, hiring and compensation at the company is based on anything other than individual qualifications, business and leadership performance.
Netzel believes the company’s policies are racist, however, and hopes his class action complaint will force American Express to retract the alleged policies.