The Pillsbury Co. yesterday agreed to pay $3.6 million to settle a class-action suit brought by 14 black employees who said the giant food processing firm discriminated against them on the basis of their race.

A lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, where the company is headquartered, alleged across-the-board race discrimination, including failure to hire and promote blacks, a lack of pay raises for those who did work there and a disparate number of firings in the group.

In addition to the cash payments, the company has agreed to increase the opportunities for the hiring and advancement of blacks and to give priority consideration for jobs to blacks who applied for jobs in the past but were not hired, according to documents filed with the U.S. District Court in Minneapolis.

The 14 named plaintiffs will share the award with about 260 current and former black employees who worked for the company between 1984 and 1989, according to Paul C. Sprenger, the Washington attorney for the plaintiffs.

The suit focused almost entirely on practices at the company prior to its 1989 acquisition by Grand Metropolitan PLC, a British food conglomerate.

Grand Metropolitan "had no ideas about equal employment laws," said Sprenger. "They promptly stepped forward to get rid of the racism. They have undertaken to provide back pay and set up a whole department to get rid of it."

"The settlement will allow us to accelerate the momentum that has been building in our cultural diversity efforts since the GrandMet acquisition," a vice president of Grand Metropolitan said in a statement.

The suit was the second alleging race discrimination at the company. Pillsbury engaged in a 10-year legal battle over a discrimination case that was settled in 1984, according to Sprenger.

"There has been an ongoing problem at the company," he said. "This should get rid of the last vestiges of it."