The story starts in 1957 when I was a radical, blue jeaned, bearded student at the University of Chicago. The only one on the campus at the time.
I spent time with several mature black students (called "Negroes" at the time) who were loosely associated with Roosevelt University in downtown Chicago. I helped out by going along to white barbershops on 63rd Street. One of my friends and I would go into a barbershop, sit down to wait our turn and the barbers would call the cops. White barbershops did not serve blacks, so the cops would take my friend down for booking at the police station and I would be there to bail him out. I could also be called to testify later, but that never happened.
Jump forward more than a decade to 1970. I am a ....
more than a decade to 1970. I am a Vice President of the Bank of
California in San Francisco, the youngest VP in American banking.
One of my fellow employees, a handsome young black male, knew of me from his days at Roosevelt University. We chatted occasionally. He was in the Loan Examination Department. One day he came to my office and was distressed because all the white guys in his department were upset. The white guys had asked the head of the Loan Examination Department to deal with a "problem" that members of the department had, and the department head wouldn't do anything. So, at my friend's request, I wrote a mild letter to the CEO of the Bank, Charles deBrettville, telling him there was a minor personnel problem in the Loan Examination Department that deBrettville would be able to deal with. I said that I didn't know the facts and had no involvement in the matter but I thought the issue would be of concern to him.
You know the letter was as mild as I have suggested because in the Spring of 1971 it was published in the San Francisco Examiner as 'how did this letter provoke such a reaction?'
The facts, as told to me, were that five members of the Loan Exam team, four white and one black were in Los Angeles having lunch at the Jonathan Club. The Bank of California was a long time founding member of the Club and most high ranking employees had business lunches there. The president of the Bank of California, John Schutt had been the recent past president of the Jonathan Club. After lunch the five Loan Exam team members went down to shoot some baskets in the Club gym. They were stopped at the gym door and told they couldn't go in, the courts were in use. Not hearing any noise, they wondered what was going on.
The four white guys went back to the gym after work and asked what had happened and were told: 'the Jonathan Club admits blacks and women for lunch but not to any other facilities.' That is the whole story. That is what the four white guys on the Loan Exam team told their boss who didn't do anything about it. (The Jonathan Club did not admit women or Blacks as members until 1987)
My letter to the CEO was apparently passed on to the president when the CEO was out of town. The president phoned me to tell me I was fired. After taking a few minutes to recover, since I hadn't connected the phone call to my letter of the day before, I went to see the Executive VP of the Bank and told him that the bank couldn't summarily fire a VP for no reason at all. He said he knew I would have to quit and he would negotiate a favorable severance package and let me stay as long as I needed. I said regardless of the package I would sue the Bank of California if I didn't stay in banking.
I didn't stay in banking. I became Business Manager of Glide Memorial Methodist Church and told the Board that hired me that I would be suing the Bank of California over a racial discrimination matter. The Board said fine and I never heard another word from them.
I first approached the EEOC and the NAACP Legal Defense group about a discrimination law suit. Both explained that they could only take a few bureaucratic legal acts of no consequence.
I then found Robert Gnaizda a widely regarded activist lawyer who was just leaving the California Rural Legal Assistance to establish Public Advocates in San Francisco. We liked each other from the first minute. I had the complete detailed computerised records of the Bank of California personnel Department which showed massive discrimination in employment against women and blacks. Bob, with his usual insight and honesty, broke the news to me. He said there was no usable legal case unless I found a woman and a black to join me in the case. Bob already knew a Latino who would join us.
I met with every important woman in the San Francisco headquarters of Bank of California (a dozen) over lunch and showed them the data comparing them to comparable males with the equivalent experience. The evident was overwhleming in terms of the level of discrimination against them. Every woman said she felt 'the bank was fair minded and would fix her problem in time'.
I met with five blacks at the Bank's headquarters, male and female, on the same basis. They told me, with great candor, that I was a naive white guy would didn't realize they would be fired for joining a discrimination law suit against the Bank.
After six months I found a feisty former female employee, who said she would join the suit.
One day, near Christmas, a young black man came to my office at Glide looking for a job. His resume showed he had worked at a bank in Texas. I explained the situation about the law suit and asked him to apply for a job at the Bank of California and also at the Bank of America. He did and the Bank of California wouldn't even interview him; but the Bank of America did. He then agreed to join the discrimination law suit.
Mr. Gnaizda, Bob, took the case, got a good Federal judge, and won the case. The Bank of California agreed to a settlement with a specified number of blacks and women in middle management at a target date and a specified number of minorities and women in the top 18 positions in management. The Bank also created a special fund, administered by women and blacks, to pay for all supplemental training of female and minorities seeking management positions at their own request.
Bob then took the Bank of California settlement to four major California banks and got them to reach the same agreement. He did the same with the three largest Savings & Loans.
Not only was this the first major anti-discrimination victory in the United States but the signing of the agreement by the other major banks and S&Ls has meant that banking is to this day the industry with the best female and minority employment practices in America.
I only have one suit left in my closet (for funerals), I might put that suit on my Jonathan Club hanger.