1. Shelby Comin' Round the MountainPeopleSoft ( PSFT) doesn't have much of a reputation for encouraging a diverse workplace. And CEO Craig Conway, it appears, isn't helping matters. First, some history. About the last time PeopleSoft's commitment to employing minorities and women was in the headlines, it was because the company was accused of faking it. Two years ago, a California jury ruled PeopleSoft should pay a former employee $5.45 million for her wrongful termination in 1996 -- a firing the worker argued stemmed from her complaints that PeopleSoft was lying to the federal government by reporting inflated figures for women and minorities at the company. Let's skip ahead to February of this year, when one Michael W. Thomas, an African-American product consultant manager at PeopleSoft, was terminated. We won't go too far into the specifics of the firing other than to say Thomas believes he didn't get the "leeway" white employees have received; he has filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. PeopleSoft won't comment on the case. Of most interest to us is how CEO Conway -- who joined PeopleSoft in 1999 -- reacted to the Thomas episode. See, on the eve of Thomas' official Feb. 20 termination, the aware-that-he-was-about-to-be-fired Thomas wrote an email to several executives at PeopleSoft alleging he was treated unfairly in the weeks leading up to the firing. The standard PeopleSoft procedure for employees needing "performance improvement" wasn't followed in his case, Thomas wrote. Corporate unhappiness with his work was both sudden and contrary to previous positive management feedback. A white manager with whom Thomas was familiar wasn't treated as strictly. "I have had discussions with other African Americans at PeopleSoft," wrote Thomas, "and the perception that the company was not sensitive ... to African Americans ... is very obvious." And how did Conway, whom Thomas cc'd on his email, react to the note? With a very short email back to Thomas, mostly this: "I am not familiar with your specific circumstances, so I can't comment. But I would recommend reading any of the writings of Shelby Steele or J.C. Watts before blaming your circumstance on race."
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Wow. Fighting words. For those of you who are not familiar with Steele or Watts, these men fall into the relatively tiny category known as Famous Black Conservatives.