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Publix Super Markets settles sex discrimination suit for $81.5 million

January 25, 1997

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) _ Publix Super Markets agreed Friday to pay $81.5 million to settle a class-action lawsuit by 150,000 women who accused the grocery chain of relegating them to dead-end, low-paying jobs.

Publix, the nation’s ninth-largest grocer and Florida’s biggest private employer, also agreed to allow the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to monitor hiring and promotions for up to seven years.

``This settlement really goes to breaking the glass ceiling in the promotion of women,″ said Frederico Costales, the EEOC’s Florida director.

The settlement applies to all women who worked at any of the 535 Publix stores in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama since 1991.

Publix has maintained that it did not have a policy against promoting women and that the allegations arose from an effort by the Food and Commercial Workers union to organize at the nonunion company.

Publix Chairman Howard Jenkins said the settlement was reached ``to avoid extensive and prolonged litigation that could have persisted for years, and to allow us to concentrate our efforts on our business.″

The lawsuit was brought in 1995 by eight women who accused Publix of passing them over for raises and repeatedly denying them management jobs. They and four others who joined the lawsuit early on said they watched as men with less experience and less seniority got promotions. Some said their requests were met with unwanted sexual advances from managers.

The EEOC later joined the lawsuit, and it was expanded to a class action covering past and current employees. The women were suing for unspecified punitive and compensatory damages, back pay, future earnings and benefits.

Publix said $63.5 million has been earmarked toward paying claims, with the balance going toward training programs, the monitoring program and attorney costs.

Although it can’t be determined how much each woman will receive until claims are filed, Publix said the 12 original plaintiffs will receive about $90,000 each. Four of those women are still Publix employees.

``All of them should be very proud of themselves for bringing this case,″ said Sam Smith, a lawyer for the women.

Also Friday, the EEOC announced it has reached a preliminary agreement with Publix to pay $3.5 million to settle complaints of racial discrimination. The money will go largely toward programs to improve race relations.

Eve Lowe, the EEOC’s Miami attorney, emphasized the commission never made a determination of racial discrimination at Publix, ``but because we had some preliminary concerns, Publix has addressed those concerns.″

Lakeland-based Publix has 99,000 employees at its stores, mostly in Florida, and sales last year of more than $10 billion.

The Publix discrimination settlement is the latest involving large supermarket chains in the past few years.

Two years ago, Lucky Stores of Northern California paid $107 million to 14,000 women to settle similar allegations. Albertson’s settled a case last year in California by paying $29.4 million to female and Hispanic workers.

And Safeway Stores settled for $7.5 million in a 1994 sex discrimination suit covering 20,000 employees in Northern California.

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