Maryland, Illinois Firms Charged With Discrimination
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, saying its new enforcement policy is showing results, filed class-action lawsuits against four companies Tuesday, charging employment discrimination against women and minorities.
Lawsuits were filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore against Citizens Bank and Trust Co. of Maryland, one of that state’s largest banks; and Peterson, Howell and Heather Inc., the nation’s largest vehicle fleet leasing company, and its parent company, PHH Group Inc.
Another suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago against Panduit Corp. of Tinley Park, Ill., a manufacturer of electrical wire devices.
The suits seek back pay for victims of the alleged discrimination and ask the courts to order the companies to give them the jobs or promotions they would have had without the alleged discrimination.
EEOC Chairman Clarence Thomas estimated the number of alleged victims at several hundred and said the suits could result in payment of ″millions of dollars″ to women and minorities at the companies.
The companies denied they discriminate in hiring or recruiting.
Announcing the suits at a news conference, Thomas said the actions are evidence that the commission is moving ahead on a policy that attacks discriminatory employment practices with tough penalties rather than with ″goals and timetables″ for hiring more women and minorities as in the past.
″I think we should be true to our word and go directly to the practices that are causing discrimination,″ Thomas said. ″I think the approach we’re taking of going after the practices is much more aggressive and I think it gets to the root of the problem rather than the symptoms.″
Thomas said that each of the companies being sued employs mostly white men and perpetuate that pattern through their employment and recruiting practices. Examples he cited were Panduit’s alleged practice of recruiting almost exclusively in white areas and Citizens Bank’s alleged practice of using ″word-of-mouth″ advertising for jobs.
Thomas said the commission was announcing the lawsuits, the largest since the fiscal year began Oct. 1, to focus attention to the EEOC’s enforcement program, which has been criticized for not putting enough emphasis on statistics in trying to show discrimination.
He has said in the past he questions the validity of relying too heavily on statistical disparities as evidence of employment discrimination.
Thomas said the cases were brought to court after attempts at conciliation with the companies failed.
Charles Wentzel, attorney for Panduit, said he could not comment on the lawsuit because he had not yet seen it. He said the company has had no contact with the EEOC since March 1984 but that the suit appears to be based on allegations discussed earlier with the commission that he said are ″unfounded.″
Edwin Miller, vice president and associate general counsel for PHH Group Inc., said the EEOC’s charges were ″unsubstantiated.″ He said, ″It has always been and will continue to be the policy of the PHH Group and its operating companies to give all employees and applicants equal consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, marital status, veteran status, age or handicap.″
Richard A. Jennison, a spokesman for Citizens Bank, also denied the charges, saying, ″Citizens has not discriminated against minorities or females with regard to any term or condition of employment.″
The EEOC has been under attack by some in Congress who say it has discouraged the filing of class-action discrimination lawsuits. Thomas denied the charge but said he had no figures to back up his claim because figures before fiscal 1985 were not compiled.