New Jersey utility company Public Service Electric and Gas in October named Rodney Dickens vice president of asset management and centralized services—making him the highest-ranking Af-rican-American executive at one of the largest utility companies in the country. Dickens, 49, is a near 30-year veteran with the company, which is the largest provider of electrical power in the state of New Jersey. He will oversee a range of functions to ensure the delivery of electrical services to customers. He also will establish and implement strategic long-term goals for the company.
Dickens’ appointment is not without controversy, however. Over the years, PSE&G has been at the center of several discrimination lawsuits by current and former employees. The most recent suit, filed in August in Superior Court in Newark, N.J., contends that PSE&G “practices a widespread and consistent pattern of discrimination” in the service division.
Eric Kleiner, an Englewood Cliffs, N.J., attorney representing the plaintiffs—Vincent Lee, Carmel Lee and Al Tarik Johnson—says PSE&G has a long history of racist and discriminatory actions stretching back to the early 1990s. “There have been a number of racial discrimination lawsuits filed against the company over the past 15 years and nothing is being done to address this ongoing problem,” Kleiner says. “Just appointing a Black vice president doesn’t solve the problem of racist practices at a company.”
Dickens dismisses the charges and scoffs at the notion that his appointment came in response to the repeated claims of discrimination. “I’m put off by the idea that my appointment has anything to do with the allegations [of racism],” he says. “The company actively recruits minorities and others for various positions.”
Karen Johnson, is a spokesperson for PSE&G, says the company abhors discrimination of any kind. “We don’t do business that way,” she says. She notes that Dickens is not the first Black vice president at PSE&G. “There have been several [over the years] and the first one was named in 1993,” she says.
Marcus Jackson, a former executive vice president and chief financial officer at Kansas City Power and Light Co., one of the largest utility companies in the Mid-west, was one of the first African-American senior executives at a major utility in the country in 1989. Due to the circumstances and sequence of events, he says, it would certainly appear as if Dickens appointment, the lawsuit and negative publicity about PSE&G are indeed related. “Most people would like to think that their achievements are based on meritorious service. But shareholders, investors and customers also play a pivotal role in how some senior executive positions are filled and by whom.”
PSE&G employs more than 6,200 people in the state of New Jersey and about 10,000 total in the New York/New Jersey metro area.
By Glenn Townes