Former dissident wins race discrimination lawsuit
By Associated Press
In China, Wei Zhang was an economics professor and an activist who participated in the Tiananmen Square uprisings. In 1989 with increasing police crackdown, he fled to the United States.
But just a decade later he faced a second battle. In a lawsuit he filed, Zhang claimed the company where he worked as an executive had racially discriminated against him.
This time Zhang got his just payback: Last week a jury awarded him more than $3.1 million against American Gem and parent company MCMI Food Company.
This is a case about a man who left the discrimination of his country because he believed in the American dream, only to come here and be discriminated against, said his lawyer, Scott Blankenship.
A U.S. District Court jury deliberated just five hours after a two-week trial before finding that Zhang, former vice president of American Gem Seafoods Pacific operations, was discriminated against when the company changed ownership.
After the company was bought by MCMI Food Company of San Antonio, Texas, Zhang was demoted and replaced by a less-qualified Caucasian, said Blankenship.
Zhang was awarded $360,000 for his civil-rights claim and $173,000 in compensation for withheld salary, Blankenship said.
The bulk of the verdict made on Aug. 23, nearly $2.6 million, was in punitive damages against the companies for failing to have anti-discrimination policies and procedures.
It was incredible that a company like MCMI, which has $110 million in assets, did not have any place for my client to go when he felt he was being discriminated against, Blankenship said.
In trial documents, MCMI and American Gem denied any discrimination. They portrayed Zhang as a highly paid malcontent who refused to acknowledge new managers or company directions.
By January 1999, plaintiff was essentially at war with his management, one document said.
Zhang became an executive at Sea-Rich Seafoods, acquired by American Gem in 1997. He was named vice president of Redmond-based Pacific Gem, American Gems West Coast subsidiary.
Things began to turn sour in December 1997, after MCMI bought the company.
According to court documents, several co-workers told him his new boss didnt trust Chinese people. Zhang said he found himself excluded from management meetings and decisions, stripped of authority, and ultimately replaced.
He was fired after he met in Iceland with executives from a competitor. American Gem claimed he had violated his contract and betrayed his trust with the company. Zhang said he was merely exploring a business opportunity for American Gem.