Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis Files a $66 Million Racial Discrimination Lawsuit

Football fans remember Jerome Bettis as being an unstoppable force on the goal line in his days playing for the Steelers. After Bettis retired, he founded a number of companies as a successful businessman. One of his business relationships is now the basis for a lawsuit as Bettis and his brother have filed a lawsuit accusing a natural gas driller of racial discrimination when it terminated a contract with their company. The brothers are seeking $66 million in damages.

Bettis had a longstanding relationship with EQT Corp., a large Pennsylvania-based natural gas driller. Bettis was a participant at the company's Supplier Diversity Matchmaking Event for the past three years. He told the story how the company helped him and his brother grow their business by pairing it with a water-hauler. The partnership ran routes for EQT. Bettis spoke of the company's commitment to diversity as evidenced by its work with his own company.

EQT Had Helped Bettis Get Into the Natural Gas Business

Bettis had tried for years to break into the natural gas industry which is so prominent in Pennsylvania. His name opened doors as everyone seemed to want to talk to a retired football star who was a cult hero in Western Pennsylvania. However, most just wanted a picture with him and to get his autograph. Bettis is a Hall of Famer, and people like to be seen with sports stars, even if they do not want to business with them. Bettis struggled for years to break into an industry that was seemingly impenetrable for minorities. It was EQT that helped Bettis get his shot in the industry, pairing him with a trucking company with prior expertise to help him break into the natural gas business.

However, EQT recently underwent a large change that resulted in new management of the company. The shareholders revolted and installed a new board that took control of the company. There was some concern about corporate management. They installed a new CEO who obviously felt differently about doing business with the Bettis brothers.

According to the lawsuit, the new CEO of the company approached the Bettis' business partner at a corporate event and complained about the Bettises getting a 10% cut for their share of the work. The CEO allegedly complained that Bettis had a sweetheart deal and was "stealing my money." This was the same event where Bettis appeared by video and praised the company's commitment to diversity. His brother attended the event in person.

Bettis' White Business Partners Were Allowed to Keep Doing Business with EQT

This was right after EQT terminated the contract that the Bettis brothers and their business partner had to haul water for the company. However, their business partner was told that he could still do business with EQT, just not partnering with Bettis. EQT claimed that the trucking company was "unsafe." However, it told the Bettis' partner that he was "back in" while refusing to do business with the retired football star.

This was the basis for the discrimination lawsuit. While EQT complained that the joint company was mismanaging its routes, it still continued to do business with the part of the joint venture that was responsible for operations. Only the Bettis brothers were shut out of the business, even though their role was limited to recruiting drivers as subcontractors. The businessman responsible for operations for the contract was allowed to work with EQT with different business partners.

The lawsuit claims that Bettis' business with other companies was hurt by the termination of the contract with EQT. Other companies allegedly cut back their business with Bettis after the allegations of unsafe practices. The irony is that EQT spent years courting Bettis in a desire to show a relationship with a well-known minority so it could gain a reputation for diversity. The company had tried for years without success to recruit Magic Johnson as a business partner.

EQT still stands by the line that it terminated the contract because of unsafe practices. The company claims that it ended numerous contracts out of a commitment to increasing its own efficiency and accountability. The company apparently was trying to cut its costs and squeeze out more profits in spite of its earlier commitment to the Bettis brothers. The company also claims that it spends 12% of its contracting budget with minority-owned businesses. EQT says that it still works with over 100 minority-owned businesses.