First Union Corp. could be hit by discrimination lawsuits from employees fired after the regional acquired Dominion Bankshares Corp. of Roanoke, Va., in September 1992, according a lawyer for some of those fired.

The employees, many of whom are middle-aged and were well paid managers, say First Union discriminated against them when it eliminated 1,288 positions and replaced senior workers with younger, less-experienced workers to save money, said the lawyer, Jonathan Rogers of Roanoke, Va.

"I have talked to several people who really feel like there ought to be a class action," he said. "Obviously, they are citing ... age issues, race issues and sex issues."

Mr. Rogers said he is negotiating with First Union on behalf of four clients who have retained him because they believe they have been discriminated against. Two of the four employees won back their jobs, he said.

Chances Seen Slim

Terry N. Grimes, an employment lawyer in Roanoke, said about six former employees have contacted him. He said the workers who were let go are middle-aged and would sue on the grounds of age discrimination if they decided to pursue the bank in court.

But Mr. Grimes doesn't think their chances of prevailing are good. He said it is difficult to prove discrimination. He said the plaintiffs would have to prove that they were better suited to perform the job than their replacements, which is subjective and difficult to measure.

"It is virtually impossible to prove," he said.

The spokesman said First Union has created 650 new jobs in Roanoke through its mortgage unit.

A First Union spokesman said allegations that it had replaced older workers with younger ones are false. "All of them employment decisions that we made ... were in no way discriminatory," the spokesman said. "We strongly believe that we acted very fairly without discrimination. Our response and our plan is to vigorously defend the decisions we made."

First Union's problems in Roanoke come on the heels of a reported 87 bias charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the company by former employees of First American Metro Corp., McLean, Va. About 200 former First American employees plan to sue First Union on charges that they were discriminated against. Many of the employees were black, well-paid middle managers.

Most Branches Shut Down

They were fired after First Union acquired First American in February 1993. Since then the company has shuttered about 75 branches of 124 in the Washington metropolitan area.

The First American workers are being represented by Paul Sprenger, a Washington-based attorney who specializes in discrimination cases. Mr. Sprenger could not be reached for comment.

First Union's acquisition has shaken up Roanoke, a medium-size mountain city with 227,000 people in its metropolitan area.

"First Union ain't making many friends in this valley," said a former Dominion bank officer. "There is quite a bit of unrest."

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