U.S. executive sues Mitsui for discrimination

NEW YORK, Feb 6 (Reuters) - An executive has sued Mitsui & Co 8031.T, claiming the Japanese trading house's Mitsui USA unit [MTSUIF.UL] discriminated against non-Japanese and non-Asian employees and dismissed him because of his age.

The lawsuit dated Feb. 5 seeking class action status in U.S. District Court in Manhattan said Andrew Van Etten, a former senior director at Mitsui USA was “unlawfully terminated” by the company in August 2006.

It said Mitsui discriminated against Van Etten, 46, “by denying him the same terms and conditions of employment available to younger employees” in violation of the Age Discrimination Employment Act of 1967.

Mitsui USA said in a statement that the lawsuit was “groundless” and that the company was “committed to maintaining a work environment free from unlawful discrimination.”

It said Van Etten “was treated fairly throughout his employment and all decisions involving him were made for lawful and legitimate reasons.”

The lawsuit said Van Etten, who was employed with the firm from 1988 in New York until his dismissal, filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in June 2007 and the EEOC granted him the right to sue in November last year.

“The employment policies and practices of Mitsui USA, under direction of Mitsui Japan, have the effect and have been undertaken with the purpose of denying promotional and management opportunities, equal compensation and equal terms and conditions of employment to qualified non-Japanese/non-Asians,” the complaint said.

Van Etten’s lawyer Kenneth Thompson said by telephone that “because he spoke out they fired him on trumped up charges. They said that five years earlier there were discrepancies in his expense reports even though the company acknowledged he performed outstanding work for them.”

The case is Andrew Van Etten v Mitsui & Company (USA) Inc and Mitsuit & Company, Limited of Tokyo 09-1071 in U.S. District Court in Manhattan. (Reporting by Grant McCool; Editing by Gary Hill)