CHICAGO (AP) _ A federal judge has granted class-action status to a sexual harassment lawsuit against soap maker Dial Corp.

The suit claims women at a Dial plant in Aurora, Ill. were subjected to groping, suggestive remarks and other sexual harassment by male co-workers.

``Dozens of women indicated that they were the targets of repeated comments and conduct of a sexual nature,'' U.S. District Judge Warren K. Urbom said in a 46-page ruling certifying the class-action lawsuit.

The decision enables the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to use one trial to seek damages for 90 female employees who alleged their male co-workers had touched their breasts and buttocks.

The suit also charges the men had exposed themselves to the female employees.

Dial believes the EEOC has a weak case, a spokesman from the company's Scottsdale, Ariz., headquarters said.

``There is no finding in this decision that Dial violated the law in any manner. It simply holds that some of the claims may go to trial,'' said spokesman Tom Herrmann. ``Dial remains confident that it will prevail.''

The commission has compared the lawsuit, filed in 1999, to one it brought against Mitsubishi Motors Corp. of America for sexual harassment of female employees on the shop floor at the automaker's plant in Normal, Ill.

That lawsuit was settled three years ago for $34 million. The EEOC said damages in the Dial suit eventually could top $25 million.

Urbom also said in his Aug. 9 ruling that the government had produced enough evidence to go to trial.

``Taking the EEOC's version of the facts as true, it appears that the work environment at Dial was sexually charged in a way that was offensive and demeaning to women,'' he said.

In late morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange, shares of Dial rose 11 cents to $17.26.

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