Women win $75 million in sex discrimination case against grocery chain

December 17, 1993|By New York Times News Service

OAKLAND, Calif. -- In a sex discrimination settlement that could alter personnel practices throughout the grocery industry, Lucky Stores Inc. has agreed to pay nearly $75 million in damages to women in northern California who were denied promotion opportunities and to invest $20 million in affirmative action programs for female employees.

The class-action settlement, one of the largest ever in a sex discrimination case, brings to a close a decade-long battle between the grocery chain, which has 188 stores in its northern California division, and a group of female employees who were denied desirable assignments, management training and movement into full-time positions that would have improved their chances for promotion.

The women said they were segregated into jobs working the cash registers and in such store departments as bakeries or delicatessens that were not as high-level as the grocery and produce sections.

"This is a great day," said Diane Skillsky, 50, a plaintiff in the case who has worked at Lucky's for 21 years. "It's good for us and good for the company to be able to get on with things."

Ms. Skillsky once worked at a cash register beside her teen-age son, only to see the boy offered training opportunities she was denied.

"As we claimed all along, women want good livelihoods just as much as men," said Brad Seligman, one of women's lawyers.

"That message now goes out to every grocery chain. Anyone who takes the position that women aren't interested is asking for serious trouble," he said.

Portions of the settlement have been in place on a trial basis since U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel ruled against the grocery chain in August 1992, at the end of a 10-month trial.

In her decision, she said that "sex discrimination was standard operating procedure at Luckys" and that she found "unpersuasive" the company's defense that women were not promoted to better jobs because they weren't interested in them.

The settlement covers about 14,000 women employed at Lucky's stores in the region from 1983 to 1992. They are expected to receive an average of $5,000 each in damages, depending on seniority, with payments ranging from $100 to $50,000.

The settlement is to be filed in U.S. District Court on Jan. 7, with payments not expected before 1995.

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