It has been nearly two months since Sodexho Inc. said it would cough up $80 million to settle a protracted racial discrimination lawsuit that claimed the facilities and food management company purposely denied promotions to 3,400 black mid-level managers.

Since then, an Asian business magazine named the Gaithersburg firm as one of the top 10 employers for Asian Americans. The Autism Services Association named Sodexho as its employer of the year.

On the surface, it may seem like quick, smart public relations in the face of an expensive settlement. But Sodexho executives say they have been pursuing diversity awards for the last three years in a broader effort to grow the company by bolstering its public image.

"At the end of the day, we do this because it makes business sense," said Rohini Anand, Sodexho's chief diversity officer. "It's about business growth. The public image is something that helps you recruit and retain the best talent. Companies committed to diversity are the ones that win the battle for talent. And it also helps in recruiting clients."

Sodexho has gone after -- and won -- diversity awards from a slew of organizations in just about every major minority constituency.

In 2003, it was named one of the 50 best companies for Latinas by Latina Style magazine, as well as Montgomery County's employer of the year for disabled people.

The following year, Black Collegian magazine named it a top 100 employer for the Class of 2004. Savoy magazine named it one of the top 50 companies for AfricanAmerican professionals.

This year has been a real boon. Black Collegian bumped Sodexho up to one of the top 10 employers for African Americans. The company was named in the top 10 for supplier diversity and for people with disabilities by DiversityInc magazine.

"It's not fluff stuff that you're trying to win awards for," Anand said. "You have to do something substantial to demonstrate that you're shifting the needle within the workforce."

Two Vie for Bethesda Site

And then there were two.

Two developers, that is, who are finalists to develop prime property -- a parking lot at Bethesda and Woodmont avenues, across the street from Barnes & Noble in the thick of downtown Bethesda.

The county has narrowed 13 contenders down to Archstone-Smith and a team of PN Hoffman and Stonebridge Associates, according to the Montgomery Newsletter, which tracks development in the county.

The Hoffman team wants to build 214 luxury condominiums and 40,000 square feet of retail space. Its plans call for shifting Woodmont Avenue to enlarge a nearby lot and add to the project.

Archstone's plans call for 200 apartments with 35,000 square feet of retail space.

A decision could come later this month.

Credit Union Earns Award

The housing boom has been good to a lot of people -- sellers, real estate agents, and, of course, the bankers. Now one lender, Mid-Atlantic Federal Credit Union, is being rewarded for its ability to generate more loans.

The credit union, which has 20,000 members, all with residential or employment connections to Montgomery County, recently scored a first-place award for direct-mail marketing from the Credit Union National Association.

The winning entry was an oversize postcard explaining the credit union's home equity and mortgage products. The eye-catcher: a $100 Home Depot gift card for customers whose loans were approved.

Mid-Atlantic Federal Credit Union generated $1.7 million in loan balances from the mailing.

Opening on Appeals Board

The County Board of Appeals, whose members serve four-year terms and receive $14,490 annually, has a vacancy.

This position can be filled by a Democrat, Republican or a person who does not have a party affiliation or is a member of another party recognized by the Board of Elections. Applicants' names will be published, and interviews will be open to the public. A financial statement listing assets, debts, income and property is required, though only the person appointed will be required to make the statement available to the public.

Letters of interest and resumes should be mailed to Council President Thomas E. Perez, County Council Office, Stella B. Werner Building, 100 Maryland Ave., Rockville, Md. 20850. The deadline is 5 p.m. Sept. 7. For information, call 240-777-7938.

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