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Six Women Sue Company for Discrimination

September 26, 1995

TOKYO (AP) _ In a case that starkly illustrates the disparities between men and women in Japan’s workplaces, six women sued their employer Tuesday for alleged discrimination against them in pay and promotions.

The six, employees of Kanematsu Corp., a major trading company, asked for 170 million yen ($1.7 million) in damages and lost wages, saying they had been shunted into lower-paying sections of the company during their careers.

Although Japan passed an Equal Employment Opportunity Law in 1986, the law’s enforcement provisions are weak, and it is still common for companies to put men and women on different career tracks.

Even women who work the same hours and do similar jobs as men can find themselves earning much less.

At Kanematsu, for example, women were virtually all put into clerical positions, while men were put into a faster-track management division, said a union representing the company’s employees.

On average, a 27-year-old man would make about the same as a women twice his age, and after 30 years in the company most men would be earning more than 500,000 yen ($5,000) a month, with women only making three-fifths of that, the union said.

The men also get more perks, such as travel allowances and generous expense accounts.

``It’s not as if because we earned half the money, we could do less work,″ said Atsuko Kimura, one of the plaintiffs. ``If you think of how much difference there will be in your retirement (pay), it’s just too much to bear.″

The plaintiffs have worked at Kanematsu for 13 to 38 years. They said they tried first to work out the disagreement outside the courtroom.

Kanematsu officials declined comment on the case.

Numerous surveys have found discrimination in hiring and promotion practices in Japan, but the government has been slow to take action.

Nine women at three companies belonging to the giant Sumitomo group filed a suit in August asking for 430 million yen ($4.3 million) in damages, claiming male employees were given preference in pay and promotion.

A lawyer’s group last year found that female college graduates were asked humiliating personal questions during job interviews, such as the color of their underwear or whether they were living with their boyfriends.

As Japan’s economy has slowed in the last four years, job opportunities for women have also slimmed. While male graduates of prestigious universities generally get job offers, many female graduates of the same schools have been forced to take positions below their expectations.

In Japan _ where job-hopping is still relatively rare _ one’s first job will often set the tone for an entire career.

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