The federal government yesterday accused Sears, Roebuck & Co. of discriminating against women workers throughout the giant retail chain and charged that four regional Sears units discriminated against blacks and other minorities.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission field five separate lawsuits against Sears, capping a seven-year investigation of job bias by the nations' biggest retail chain.
The charges made yesterday against Sears were fare narrower than the EEOChs ruling in 1977 that there were "patterns of sex, race and national origin discrimination at all levels" of the company.
There was no charge of nationwide racial or ethnic bias in the complaints filed yesterday by the EEOC, but the agency did charge that Sears discriminated against women "in each and every state in the continental United States."
Women workers at Sears are paid less than men doing the same work, the EEOC charged. The company also was accused of discriminating against women in recruiting, hiring, transfering, training, promoting and job assignment.
In separate lawsuits, EEOC charged that Sears discriminated against black employes at facilities in Atlanta, Memphis and Montgomery, Ala. and against blacks and hispanic workers at a New York warehouse.
At Sears headquarters in Chicago, spokesman Ernest Arms denied that Sears is guilty of discrimination, saying "We are proud of our record in affirmative action."
Arms said Sears "welcomes this opportunity for a fair hearing before the courts, something we have not had in six years of dealing with the staff of the EEOC."
Sears for years has been fighting in private with the EEOC, which is prohibited by law from commenting on cases before it goes to court.
Sears took its case to the public last January by filing a lawsuit seeking to block enforcement of all federal job bias laws on the grounds that the government created "an unbalanced work force" that gives advantages to white males. That lawsuit was dismissed in June by U.S. District Court Judge June L. Green in Washington.
Shortly after Sears filed its suit, the EEOC's case against the company began leaking to the press. EEOC officials hinted that the case against Sears would be one of the most-far-reaching job discrination lawsuits ever. Secret EEOC documents that eventually were made public accused the company of violating job bias laws in 69 different ways.
In August, however, an Eeoc attorney recommended dropping plans to sue Sears because of "flaws" and "errors" in the case. The commission, however, told the lawyers to go ahead with the lawsuits, which were finally filed this week.
The lawsuits charging bias against women ask the federal courts to order Sears to end any discriminatory practices, to set up a new equal employment opportunity program for women "which eradicates the effects of its past and present unlawful empolyment pratices" and to give back pay to women who have been discriminated against.