HOUSTON -- Businessman Jim Crane has stayed out of the spotlight since the announcement that his investment group had reached a deal to buy the Houston Astros for $680 million.
As he awaits word on approval from Major League Baseball, Crane says an almost decade-old discrimination settlement involving his company shouldn't factor into the decision.
In October 2001, Crane's former company, Eagle Global Logistics, agreed to a $9 million settlement of a lawsuit that alleged race, sex and age discrimination against employees and job applicants. It included $8.5 million in back pay and damages and a $500,000 fund to train women and minorities for leadership jobs at the company.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleged at the time that EGL had improperly failed or refused to promote or even find jobs for blacks, Hispanics and women. The EEOC also alleged that those three groups were paid less than whites and subject to disparate discipline and a hostile working environment.
Crane left EGL, an international freight company, in 2007 and founded Crane Worldwide Logistics the next year. At the time of the settlement, he described it as a commitment to a work environment free of discrimination.
"While we continue to deny the EEOC's allegations, we feel that it is in the best interest of our company and its future to resolve this matter at this time in a productive, forward-looking manner," he said in 2001.
In 2005, nearly $6 million of the settlement was returned to EGL by District Judge Lynn Hughes after it was found that 203 of 2,073 claims were with merit.
Crane did not respond to messages seeking comment on the issue, but addressed it in May during a news conference on the sale of the Astros.
"If you've done your homework on that, there really wasn't a problem there," Crane said. "We can address that later. But I don't think it's going to be a problem whatsoever."
Racial discrimination is a particularly sensitive subject for a league that celebrates diversity in a number of ways. The league marks Jackie Robinson Day annually in memory of the Brooklyn star who broke baseball's color barrier in 1947, and it backs youth programs to address the dwindling number of blacks in the majors.
The Houston chapter of the NAACP expressed concern about Crane, citing the EGL case.
"We are deeply concerned that someone that has a broad reach throughout the community and across the country regarding employment has such a dismal record in the area of discrimination," the NAACP said. "As such, this is someone that should be monitored very closely in the area of employment discrimination as it relates to minorities and women."
The president of the chapter, D.Z. Cofield, has reportedly since met with Crane. Cofield, who is also pastor of Good Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Houston, did not respond to requests for comment.
MLB spokesman Pat Courtney said the league would not comment on the issue while "in the midst of our due diligence" on Crane. He wouldn't give a specific timetable on the process.
Crane has made several unsuccessful attempts to buy a team. He attempted to buy the Astros in 2008, but McLane turned him down. In 2009, he was in the running to buy the Cubs and last summer teamed with Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban in an unsuccessful bid to buy the Texas Rangers.
Houston's outgoing owner, Drayton McLane, said he does not believe the case will keep Crane from receiving MLB approval.
"That's an old issue that goes back eight to 10 years that was ultimately cleared up," McLane said. "Very few of those claims were actually proven and that has long been solved. From what I've been hearing, it will not cause any problems in getting approval."
Crane is the chairman and chief executive of Crane Capital, a private equity fund company. If approved, Crane's investors will become the fifth ownership group in charge of a team founded in 1962. The team has made the playoffs six times since 1997 but currently has the worst record in baseball.