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EEOC, Astra Settle Harassment Suit

February 5, 1998

BOSTON (AP) _ In the largest settlement of its kind, the American subsidiary of a Swedish pharmaceutical company today agreed to pay nearly $10 million to settle claims by former employees that they were sexually harassed.

Astra AB admitted it allowed a hostile working environment for female employees at its U.S. headquarters in Westboro, Mass., the company and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said at a news conference.

The $9.85 million settlement is the largest for sexual harassment by the EEOC in U.S. history. The money would go to 80 current and former workers _ or more, if others come forward later, officials said. One of the 80 is a man who said he was punished for speaking out against the way the women were treated.

``As a company, we are ashamed of the unacceptable behavior that took place,″ Astra USA’s new president, Ivan Rowley, said today. The company admitted that women employees were asked for sexual favors in exchange for favorable treatment on the job.

The company has sued its former U.S. chief executive, Lars Bildman, for $15 million. Bildman pleaded guilty last week to a tax charge and will later be sentenced to 21 months in prison.

In its suit against Bildman, Astra said it planned to recover costs related to the EEOC investigation.

Bildman ran the American operations of Astra AB before he was fired in 1996 amid allegations that he spent company cash on home repairs, family vacations and high-priced prostitutes.

Before he pleaded guilty to the single tax charge last month, federal prosecutors promised to document allegations against Bildman. They said Bildman hired $1,500-a-day call girls, who performed their services aboard yachts chartered at Florida sales meetings.

But Bildman’s attorneys pledged to turn the tables on Astra, arguing the company encouraged big spending among its top executives. The company routinely spent lavish sums on parties, they argued, and only turned against Bildman after he wouldn’t go along with a plan that would have diminished the importance of the American subsidiary.

As part of the plea agreement, the government dropped other charges.

Bildman’s attorney, Eric MacLeish, said the lawsuit came as a surprise.

``It’s no secret that Astra and Mr. Bildman have very different views surrounding his tenure at Astra,″ MacLeish said.

Bildman was accused of replacing mothers and older women employees with beautiful single young women who were pressured into having sex. Former employees said Bildman demanded that eight hours of work be followed by eight hours of drinking and partying. Some claimed they were fondled while dancing with Bildman and said he suggested they have sex.

Women who sued the company said after-hours sex was common and total loyalty to the company was required.

A federal lawsuit filed in 1996 by six former Astra employees alleged that executives created ``an organized pattern of sexual harassment ... in order to satisfy their personal desires.″ It said some applicants were rejected based solely on their photographs.

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