Honeywell settles sex-bias case

September 09, 1994|By Knight-Ridder News Service

Honeywell Inc. will spend $6.5 million to settle a 20-year-old discrimination case that affected more than 6,000 female factory workers between 1972 and 1977.

U.S. Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich announced yesterday that Honeywell agreed to pay $3.5 million in back wages and interest to 6,367 women or their estates, and to spend an additional $3 million during the next five years on diversity programs.

"We felt it was in the best interest of everyone involved not to prolong an issue that had dragged on for 20 years," said Honeywell spokeswoman Meta Gaertnier.

Honeywell is admitting no discrimination in the case, despite agreeing to expand its already extensive diversity efforts. "We .. believe the practices cited by the Labor Department were consistent with general industry practices of the 1970s," said Mannie Jackson, Honeywell senior vice president of marketing and administration.

Mr. Reich said yesterday that the diversity spending is common in discrimination cases. "It's not unusual for additional spending beyond back pay to help guard against a recurrence of discrimination," he said.

The company has not decided how it will spend the $3 million, Ms. Gaertnier said. Honeywell has won national awards for its diversity programs. It was the host for a Worldwide Diversity Week in June and has asked each executive on its policy committee to initiate new diversity efforts this year.

The Honeywell agreement is the Labor Department's third-largest monetary settlement of discrimination cases, Mr. Reich said.

The case is one of 100 cases Mr. Reich termed "politically sensitive" that lingered in the department during the Reagan and Bush administrations, he said. Under Mr. Reich, the department has resolved 82 of those cases.

The Labor Department took a closer look at Honeywell in 1974, following a routine compliance review that revealed discrimination against female employees at the Twin Cities plants.

Among the department's findings were that Honeywell excluded entry-level women from higher-paying jobs (the "blue" jobs reserved solely for men); that women lost their seniority rights when the company transferred them to another work group; and that Honeywell typically assigned women to work groups with lower wages and fewer advancement opportunities than their male peers.

Honeywell said the practices were part of a labor agreement with Teamsters Union Local 1145. They were remedied in 1975, the company said.

Teamsters officials did not return calls for comment.

Women who worked in Honeywell plants during the 1970s say the agreement has been a long time coming. Though some of the women have long since retired, they have vivid memories of harassment and intimidation at the hands of male supervisors.

"I tell you, we old-timers could write a book on what we had to go through when we started there," said one female factory worker who worked at Honeywell from 1950 to 1993.

"You had to take whatever they dished out, or you'd lose your job," said the woman, who asked that her name not be used.

According to testimony from four female workers before an administrative trial judge in 1979, Honeywell supervisors would deliberately misrepresent high-paying jobs as "dirty, heavy and undesirable for women."

The supervisors also overlooked harassment by male co-workers, including tampering with the machines of women who managed to secure a job formerly reserved for men, according to testimony.

Clarice Thibodeaux, 71, said the atmosphere "sort of mellowed out" after she and her female co-workers testified. "But they still preferred to have a man in a job than a woman," she said. "That's my opinion."

She retired from Honeywell in April 1993.

Ms. Gaertnier, the Honeywell spokeswoman, said the Labor Department is responsible for determining which women are eligible for back pay, plus interest. The department must contact those women or the representatives of their estates if the women are dead.

"Honeywell's sole responsibility is to send a check," Ms. Gaertnier said.

The Labor Department has a list of 6,367 female Honeywell employees who suffered discrimination between 1972 and 1977. The department has divided the women into four sub-classes, each of which is eligible for a specific amount of pay.

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