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Boeing Settles Sex-Bias Lawsuit

Thousands of Women Win in Payout of As Much as $72.5 Million

By Renae Merle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 17, 2004; Page E01

Boeing Co. agreed yesterday to pay up to $72.5 million to settle a sex-discrimination lawsuit filed on behalf of 29,000 current and former female employees at its Seattle area facilities, where it primarily builds commercial aircraft.

U.S. District Judge Marsha J. Pechman in Seattle approved the deal, four years after the class-action suit was filed. It charged the Chicago aerospace giant with giving women workers less pay and fewer promotions than their male counterparts. A Boeing study obtained in the case determined that female workers typically earn $1,000 to $2,000 less than men, according to Joseph M. Sellers of the District, an attorney representing the female workers. A 1998 internal Boeing report concluded that men were more likely to be hired into higher-paying positions, he said.

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Under the settlement, Boeing also agreed to monitor salaries and overtime assignments, and to conduct annual performance evaluations. The changes will hold managers increasingly accountable for how they make salary and overtime decisions, Sellers said.

It was the second major sex-discrimination settlement of the week. Monday, Wall Street investment bank Morgan Stanley settled a case by paying $54 million to a few hundred women.

"Boeing has been and will continue to be firmly committed to an environment in which employees are treated equitably and have opportunities to build successful careers," Laurette T. Koellner, executive vice president of internal services, said in a written statement. The company continued to deny wrongdoing.

"The settlement reflects a terrific vindication for the rights of women employees to get equal pay for equal work," Sellers said. "The crux of the case was the analysis of Boeing's own workforce data, which showed significant difference in pay between men and women. . . . "

The settlement affects non-executive salaried and hourly female workers, from janitors and machinists to first-level managers. Boeing has more than 52,000 workers in Washington state.

"It was a tedious battle for all of us, mentally and emotionally draining," said Sheilah Sage, a former Boeing toolmaker and one of the plaintiffs. "We're grateful that it came to a conclusion with positive end results. It's made positive changes within that company." Sage, who left Boeing in 2002, said she was punished for reporting sexual harassment and was not given opportunities for promotion.

Boeing announced the settlement in May, days before the case was scheduled for trial, but the details were not released until yesterday.

The ultimate size of the settlement and each worker's share depends on the number of women who submit claims. The total payout will be at least $40.6 million and as much as $72.5 million. Each worker will be eligible for $500 or more, depending on when she worked and how much she earned.

During the past five years, Boeing has had a mixed record in discrimination cases. In 1999, it created a $4.5 million fund to raise the salaries of thousands of female and minority employees after a Labor Department audit of salary discrimination. The same year, Boeing reached a $15 million settlement on behalf of 15,000 to 17,000 black employees who also alleged discrimination. Some members of the class protested the settlement, which is now scheduled for mediation.

Last month, a federal jury sided with Boeing against Asian-American technical workers and engineers that alleged discrimination in pay and job promotion.

Most large discrimination cases are settled out of court, and Boeing's case ranks below some of the largest cases in recent years. In 1997, Home Depot Inc. settled a sex-discrimination class action for $104 million. In 2000, Coca-Cola Co. paid employees $192.5 million for discrimination.

Staff researcher Richard Drezen contributed to this report.

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