The Western Electric Co. has agreed to pay $514,740 to settle a 5-year-old federal lawsuit claiming it systematically discriminated against women and blacks the company employed at its giant Arlington repair facility.
Under the terms of the settlement, which must be approved by U.S. District Court Judge Albert V. Bryan Jr., as many as 1,400 persons could receive some part of $500,000 the company will pay to those who were not promoted or transferred into better jobs because of race or sex.
The company also will pay $14,740 to 23 women who were forced to take early maternity leave and rehired only if they followed certain procedures.
"I think the settlement provides just compensation to the victims of Western Electric's discriminatory job placement and transfer policies," said Paul S. Reichler, an attorney representing the six current and former employes who filed the class action suit in 1975.
Wilma Mathews, a New York spokesman for the company, said, "We'd like to get this settled so we don't have to continue in litigation." She said the company, which employs 168,939 persons nationwide, including 873 in Arlington, had a "continuing committment of affirmative action."
The agreement marks the second time in a month Western Electric has agreed to settle a sex discrimination suit. Last month, a Newark, N.J., judge approved a $7 million settlement of a class action brought by women who had been fired or not promoted by the firm, at its facilities at Kearny and Clark, N.J.
Western Electric is the manufacturing arm of the Bell Telephone System. At Western Electric's Arlington facility, located at 1201 S. Hayes St., employes repair individual telephones as well as large pieces of equipment used at phone company offices.
According to the 1975 suit, the company refused for more than a decade to permit women to work in its warehouse and refused to let women and blacks work in its shop trades section, which requires a high degree of technical skill. The suit also claimed that the company refused to promote women and blacks into supervisory positions.
Judge Bryan heard the case in 1976 and found the firm guilty of discrimination. The case was appealed to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, which last year agreed that the company illegally refused to promote or hire women and blacks for its warehouse and trades jobs.
But on technical reasons, the appeals court threw out the charge that the firm discriminated against women and blacks for promotion into supervisory jobs and sent the case back to Bryan's court. Both sides appealed the 4th Circuit decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case.
At that point both sides agreed to the settlement.
So far, more than 200 persons have filed suits claiming that the firm discriminated against them, and others have until Sept. 15 to file their papers, a spokesman said.
Bryan has scheduled a hearing on the case for Sept. 19.