Sears, Roebuck and Co. revealed yesterday that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has broken off conciliation talks involving the sex and race discrimination charge pending against Sears.
Sears charged the EEOC action was taken in "retaliation" for Sears' filing of a class action lawsuit challenging a broad range of federal job discrimination records.
But EEOC press representative Daisy Voight said the agency took the action more than a week before it learned of Sears' suit.
EEOC, which is forbidden by law from commenting on the details of pending anti-discrimination charges, issued its statement in response to a Sears announcement in Chicago.
Revealing that EEOC had ended conciliation efforts, Sears said, "The record will show that the EEOC letters breaking off talks were dated Jan. 24 -- the same day Sears filed its lawsuit."
But Voight said the EEOC acted on Jan. 16, although the letter was not mailed for several days.
She said the action came "after an extended period of negotiation" and was taken because "settlement efforts had been unsuccessful."
In an effort to restart the negotiations, Sears' statement said, "We believed that the conciliation process with the EEOC could continue and we would have preferred to settle that matter amicably."
EEOC's action against Sears began in 1973 and has been in formal conciliation since April 1977, when EEOC ruled it had reasonable cause to believe Sears discriminated against women and minorities.
The case is expected to involve one of the most costly bias settlements ever, approaching the $100 million in back pay and future raises the EEOC extracted from American Telephone & Telegraph.
AT&T is the largest private employer of women in America and Sears is number two.