Allegations that Corning Inc.‘s employee evaluation process discriminates against black professionals, excluding them from promotion to the company’s upper reaches, may go forward on a class basis, a federal judge ruled.

Yulonda Woods-Early’s February 2018 lawsuit claims that a “small brain trust” of executive and senior vice presidents has final control over the ratings Corning design, engineering, and marketing professionals receive during performance reviews.

If true, that could provide the sort of common practice or “glue” that the U.S. Supreme Court has indicated is necessary to certify large classes of workers in job bias cases involving allegedly subjective decision-making, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York said Feb. 4.

Woods-Early’s allegations that Corning’s review process also discriminates based on race and color because individual supervisors have too much discretion don’t necessarily undercut the potentially common thread among all black professionals provided by the alleged role of the “brain trust,” Judge Frank P. Geraci said.

The company’s own data shows it has rated most black professionals’ performance in the 1-3 range while their white counterparts generally have received ratings of 3-5, Woods-Early alleges. A 4 or 5 rating is needed to be designated by Corning as “emerging talent,” she says. And an emerging-talent designation is needed for promotion to pay band D. Only professionals in that pay band are eligible to participate in networking opportunities with Corning leadership, which is necessary for long-term success at the company, she says.

She alleges that the “brain trust” doesn’t just have the ability to manipulate ratings, but that it also has the incentive to do so, Geraci said. Corning policy allegedly is that only 10 percent of professionals may be designated as emerging talent, she said.

It’s still too soon to consider Corning’s arguments that Woods-Early’s proposed class doesn’t meet the other elements needed for class certification under federal procedural rules, the court said. Motions to strike class allegations at the pleading stage are generally “disfavored,” it said.

Corning’s motion didn’t raise any threshold challenges on those other class certification requirements. It instead only raises objections that “can and should be addressed at the class certification stage,” the court said.

Faruqi & Faruqi LLP represents Woods-Early and the proposed class. Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP and Nixon Peabody LLP represent Corning.

The case is Woods-Early v. Corning Inc., 2019 BL 35471, W.D.N.Y., No. 18-CV-6162, 2/4/19.