The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission has agreed to allocate $80,000 to compensate women employees who can prove claims of on-the-job sex discrimination and to set aside an additional $45,000 to help equalize job opportunities for women within its ranks.
The agreement was part of the settlement of a $160,000 class action sex discrimination suit brought against the bicounty sewer and water agency by four women employees. The suit was settled by consent decree in U.S. District Court in Baltimore on Tuesday. Under the terms of a consent decree, there is no finding of guilt.
Under terms of the agreement signed by U.S. District Judge Joseph H. Young, the four women will get $20,000 as a group and the WSSC will set aside another $60,000 for back pay claims from other women employees in addition to allocating $45,000 to create an "affirmative action find" to recruit, train and promote women employees. The remaining $35,000 will go to pay attorneys' fees and court costs.
Nita Farrell, an accountant who was one of the plaintiffs in the suit, told a reporter yesterday, "We knew the door was shut and we were trying to open it. Men just don't have this problem. We knew there was something wrong when all of the positions of upward mobility were occupied by men."
Farrell said two women who applied for a specific job at the WSSC were told by the personnel office that the job did not exist. A short time later, she said, the newly-created job was filled by a man as the women had heard a rumor it would be.
The women, joined in the suit by the Southern Prince George's Chapter of the National Organization for Women, charged that the WSSC steered women into low-level clerical jobs and kept them out of top-level management jobs and such other positions as carpenters, truck drivers, and engineers.
The women also charged that notices of vacancies and new positions were not posted and that such information was kept from the agency's women employees.
The suit filed for the women by the Urban Law Institute of Antioch law school in Washington was based on the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1871 and 1964.
In addition to Farrell, the WSSC employees who brought the suit were Marion Reihm, an accountant supervisor. Joyce Fishman, a revenue supervisor, and Deborah Pagana-Fay, an engineering aide.
The special $45,000 "affirmative action fund" will be supervised by a five-member committee chaired by the agency's equal employment opportunity officer. Attorneys for the women and the WSSC each will choose two members of the committee.
According to a joint press release issued yesterday by the WSSC and attorneys for the women, the agencyagreed to avoid concentrating women employees in any specific job category and also agreed to post notice of all vacancies and new positions.
The court gave women employees 30 days to file claims of back pay against the agency and set a maximum compensatory fee of $2,000 for each claim proved.
WSSC officials, reached yesterday afternoon, declined to comment directly on the settlement, referring a reporter to the joint press release.