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When bias goes companywide, class-action lawsuits will follow

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Two recent rulings illustrate how more workers are seeking, and winning, class-action status in charges of companywide discrimination.

Case 1. In December, a federal court in Illinois paved the way for more than 4,800 women in nine states to pursue sex-bias claims and damages of $410 million against Rent-A-Center Inc. The EEOC investigated the claims and calls this case one of the most brazen examples of discrimination against women in decades.

The EEOC says the Plano, Texas-based retailer routinely forced female employees to quit or it refused to hire and promote them. The judge granting class action cited several statements allegedly made by the executives and store managers, including, "The day I hire a woman will be a cold day in hell," "You can do the vacuuming because that's a woman's job," and "In case you didn't notice, we do not employ women."

Rent-A-Center denies the allegations, saying it recently adopted a sex discrimination policy, ended a weight-lifting requirement and changed internal procedures for reporting claims. But attorneys say the efforts came too late.

Case 2. Ford Motor Co. agreed to pay $10.5 million to settle two class-action lawsuits involving about 530 managers, alleging that a performance rating system had discriminated against older, white male employees.

Final court approval of the settlement in this closely watched reverse-bias case is expected this month. The lawsuits charged that the company used the rating system to eliminate white male, midlevel managers while favoring minorities and women.

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