3M Companies appears poised to settle a high-profile age discrimination suit. Earlier this year, the company filed a joint motion for preliminary approval of a class-action settlement involving approximately 7,000 workers.
If the Ramsey County District Court agrees, the employees (and their attorneys) will split $12 million.
The suit arose out of 3M’s adoption of a rigorous quality-control system under former CEO James McNerney Jr., who had great success with “Six Sigma” while working at General Electric.
However, the plaintiffs claimed that the system’s effect was to consistently promote younger workers. They alleged older employees received lower performance ratings, missed out ontraining, were denied promotions, given smaller pay increases and fewer stock options and had been terminated in disproportionately higher numbers than younger employees.
McNerney left the company in 2005. Current CEO George Buckley scrapped Six Sigma, claiming it is appropriate for manufacturing environments, but not necessarily in research-oriented companies like 3M.
Employment lawyers have carefully watched the suit to see how the supposedly discriminatory aspects of Six Sigma would play out.
3M admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement papers.
Note: Employers must be conscious of potential discrimination traps inside different management systems. Six Sigma emphasizes high quality and low variability in product output. Critics maintain the same approach to innovation can sometimes stifle creativity. Generationally, regimes such as Six Sigma may go against the grain of the “think outside the box” baby boomers. Continuous monitoring of any management system is necessary to improve results—and limit liability.
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