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Thursday, October 25, 2007

EEOC Turns Attention to Asian American Workers

By Stephen Barr
Wednesday, October 24, 2007; Page D04

Concerned that federal agencies are not paying adequate attention to their Asian American employees, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has set up a working group to study how they are treated and promoted across the government.

The group will try to pull together a report by next year that examines allegations of discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who work in the federal government, how they are treated when it comes to promotions and whether they are reluctant to file discrimination complaints.

"Our work will begin with testing perceptions and gathering the realities Asian Pacific Americans face in the federal workplace," Naomi C. Earp, chairman of the EEOC, said.

Of the 2.6 million employees in the federal sector, 5.9 percent are Asian Americans, according to data collected by the EEOC. The Office of Personnel Management has described the overall representation of Asian Americans in the federal workplace as generally satisfactory when measured against the broader national workforce.

But relatively few Asian Americans make it into the highest ranks of the government -- 146 out of 6,349 career members of the Senior Executive Service, according to a congressional audit released in May.

That raises the question of whether Asian Americans face a " 'bamboo ceiling,' " said Gazal Modhera, who will head the working group.

Modhera met yesterday with federal executives to roll out a survey to collect information from agencies on how they staff, finance and organize programs for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, compared with other minority groups.

She said the working group will use the survey to help gauge anecdotal accounts from Asian Americans. Some say they are being denied time off to attend conferences or to take advantage of training opportunities, Modhera said. Others have noted that their agencies do not sponsor activities or programs for them to the extent that they do for other groups, such as African Americans, Hispanics and gays.

The EEOC's survey will ask agencies to provide information on who manages diversity programs, which committees oversee diversity initiatives, what activities are sponsored and whether they have identified issues and problems that lead to an under-representation of Asian Americans in the government.

In addition to looking at possible workplace barriers encountered by Asian Americans, the EEOC also is interested in why this group appears reticent to file discrimination complaints against their agencies.

A survey by the Gallup Organization in 2005 found that 31 percent of Asian Americans thought they had been discriminated against, but EEOC records show that only 2 percent of Asian Americans file discrimination complaints, regardless of whether they work in the federal or the private sector.

Most of the federal Asian American complaints cited race or national origin as the basis for harassment or for the denial of promotions, EEOC records show.

Members of the working group include Suzan Aramaki of the Commerce Department, Linda Bradford-Washington of the Housing and Urban Development Department, Sherrie Davis of the National Institutes of Health, Robert Jew of the National Archives and Records Administration, Farook Sait of the Agriculture Department, James Su of the Federal Asian Pacific American Council, and Sharon Wong of the Asian American Government Executives Network. All are leaders in civil rights, diversity management or equal employment opportunity at their agencies or groups.

"We want to break through and get to what are the issues," Modhera said.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Learning the Rules for Raises

You've been working hard earning praise from your boss and co-workers. So when will those kind words translate into more money? To find out, start by arming yourself with facts -- about how your company works and the strength of the labor market.

A Complex Equation

U.S. companies will increase their overall salary budgets by 3.9 percent in 2008, the same as in 2007, according to the WorldatWork Salary Budget Survey. The salary budget is the total amount of money a company has for merit increases or cost of living adjustments.

How large a raise you can expect -- and when -- can depend on many factors beyond whether you're performing well: your company's culture, its financial performance, and how much you make compared with your peers, for example.

Get Details from the Boss

It's always a good idea to have a general talk with your boss about how and when raises are handed out. "Good bosses would be very open to having that conversation," said Gail Ginder, a leadership coach in Healdsburg, California. Ask what it takes to get a raise, when decisions on raises are made, and how you can find out if you're on track.

"They really need to find out what it is they can expect," Ginder said. Even changing bosses within one company can mean a different set of criteria, if the company gives managers a lot of latitude in awarding increases. If your boss doesn't know, someone in human resources should be able to answer your questions.

Every Employer Is Unique

Bear in mind, though, that some companies are more organized than others when it comes to pay increases. Some simply give everyone average raises, said Shari Dunn, managing principal of CompAnalysis, a compensation and HR consulting firm in Oakland, California. Others are trying to move away from giving everyone an annual increase and instead look at whether you're being paid what the market says your work is worth.

At many companies, raises depend on a mix of your performance and how much you make compared with others doing the same job. You may find that if you're nearing the top of the pay bracket for your position, you'll need to earn a promotion to get a raise.

For example, Dunn said, an average performer who is paid an average salary for employees at that level would get an average raise, but an average performer who was paid near the top of the company's range for his or her job would likely get less. A top performer who is paid less than others in the same job could be in line for a larger-than-average raise.

"The linkage to performance is sometimes tenuous," Dunn said.

Demonstrate Your Value

While you're asking your boss to explain how raise decisions are made, should you also ask for a raise? Again, it's important to know how your employer operates.

Large, traditional companies and government agencies often use clearly defined processes to determine raises, and asking for more money mid-year will just make you seem out of place. On the other hand, more entrepreneurial companies may be more open to requests for raises -- as long as they're backed up by solid data about your performance and what it's worth, not just a list of things you'd like to buy if you had more money.

"Employers like ambitious employees, especially if they're good performers," Dunn said.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Wal-Mart Workers Win $62 Million

By MARYCLAIRE DALE, Associated Press Writer
Wed Oct 3, 11:56 AM

PHILADELPHIA - Wal-Mart workers in Pennsylvania who previously won a $78.5 million class-action award for working off the clock will share an additional $62.3 million in damages, a judge ruled Wednesday.

About 125,000 people will receive $500 each in damages under a state law invoked when a company, without cause, withholds pay for more than 30 days.

A Philadelphia jury last year awarded the workers the exact amount they had sought, rejecting Wal-Mart's claim that some people chose to work through breaks or that a few minutes of extra work here and there was insignificant.

"Just as highly paid executives' promised equity interests or put options or percentage of sale proceeds are protected fringe benefits and wage supplements, so too the monetary equivalents of 'paid break' time cashiers and other employees were prohibited from taking are protected fringe benefits and wage supplements," Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Mark Bernstein wrote.

Similar suits charging that Wal-Mart violated state wage laws are in play across the country.

A California trial ended with a $172 million verdict that Wal-Mart is appealing while the Bentonville, Ark.-based company settled a Colorado suit for $50 million.
A trial opened last week in Minnesota while suits are pending in New Jersey and several other states.

The Pennsylvania class-action suit involves 187,000 current and former employees who worked at Wal-Mart and Sam's Clubs from March 1998 through May 2006. The initial $78.5 million award represented the wages lost by those workers.

A smaller number _ about 125,000 _ qualified for the damage award Wednesday. The others were excluded by legal time limits and are seeking interest on the back wages.
"The law in its majesty applies equally to highly paid executives and minimum wage clerks," Bernstein wrote.

Plaintiffs' lawyer Michael Donovan credited Bernstein for recognizing in Wednesday's ruling "that ordinary workers are entitled to the same protection under the law as executives."

His clients have not yet received any money and likely won't for some time if the company appeals. The payments for lost wages are expected to range from about $50 to a few thousand dollars, depending on employment history.

A Wal-Mart spokeswoman said the company discourages employees from working off the clock and disciplines managers who permit it.

"Many employees testified that they skipped rest breaks by choice. While we discourage that practice, employers should not be penalized when employees do that on their own," said the spokeswoman, Sharon Weber.

Wal-Mart shares rose 56 cents to $45.43 Wednesday in midday trading.

Knicks Trial Ends With $11.6M Jury Award

Knicks Trial Ends With $11.6M Jury Award

Former New York Knicks executive Anucha Browne Sanders exits Manhattan feder...
By TOM HAYS, AP
NEW YORK

In an end to a salacious three-week trial, a jury ordered the owners of the New York Knicks to pay $11.6 million to a former team executive who endured crude insults and unwanted advances from coach Isiah Thomas.

The jury of four women and three men found Thomas and Madison Square Garden sexually harassed Anucha Browne Sanders, but it decided only MSG and chairman James Dolan should pay for harassing and firing Browne Sanders from her $260,000-a-year job out of spite.

The result: The Garden owes $6 million for condoning a hostile work environment and $2.6 million for retaliation. Dolan owes $3 million. Though Thomas is off the hook for any damages, he leaves the case with a tarnished image.

Outside court, a beaming Browne Sanders insisted her victory was more about sending a message than the money.

"What I did here, I did for every working woman in America," she said. "And that includes everyone who gets up and goes to work in the morning, everyone working in a corporate environment."

Earlier, Thomas emerged from the federal courthouse in lower Manhattan with his trademark smile but flashed anger as he reasserted his innocence amid a crush of reporters and cameras.

"I'm extremely disappointed that the jury did not see the facts in this case," he said. "I will appeal this, and I remain confident in the man that I am and what I stand for and the family that I have."

MSG said it will appeal, also denying wrongdoing in a case widely viewed as a public relations disaster for a franchise struggling to regain credibility. The team hasn't won a playoff game since Thomas was signed as president in December 2003 and has wasted millions this decade on a series of free-agent busts.

The verdict also amounts to another blemish on the resume of Thomas, a two-time NBA champion whose post-playing career has been marked by one failure after another.
NBA spokesman Tim Frank said the league's policies "do not encompass civil litigation."

Jurors, who needed roughly two days to decide on the allegations but only about an hour to determine damages, declined to talk about the verdict or how they came to their decision.

In a lawsuit filed last January, the 44-year-old Browne Sanders sought $10 million in punitive damages, but the jury was free to deviate from that figure. The verdict also means the judge will determine and award compensatory damages in the coming weeks.

The harassment verdict was expected after the jury sent a note to the judge Monday indicating it believed Thomas, the Garden and Dolan sexually harassed Browne Sanders, a married mother of three and former vice president for marketing.

Browne Sanders is currently an associate athletic director and senior woman administrator at the University of Buffalo.

"All of us in the Division of Athletics are thrilled to know that Anucha has been vindicated and that both her and her family have wrapped up this very difficult ordeal," the university said in a statement. "We look forward to seeing her soon and, most of all, are elated that she can move on with her life and career."

The jurors had heard Browne Sanders testify that Thomas, after arriving as new team president, routinely addressed her as "bitch" and "ho" in outbursts over marketing commitments. He later did an abrupt about-face, declaring his love and suggesting an "off-site" liaison, she said.

Thomas, while admitting to using foul language around the plaintiff, insisted he never directed it toward her.

Degrading a woman in the workplace "is never OK," said Thomas, a married father of two. "It is never appropriate."

Dolan and a string of other executives also took the witness stand to deny they tolerated or witnessed sexual harassment. They testified Browne Sanders was fired because she was incompetent on budget matters, and because she later sought to undermine an internal inquiry into her allegations against Thomas.

The trial also made headlines with its testimony about an admitted tryst involving star Knicks guard Stephon Marbury and an MSG intern, an encounter the plaintiffs' attorneys argued demonstrated the organization's frat house mentality.

At the Knicks training camp in South Carolina on Tuesday, Marbury and other players said it was time for the team to move past the off-court controversy. Thomas was expected to arrive Wednesday.

"It's a tough situation and the only thing we can do now is go forward," Marbury said.

Forward Malik Rose predicted the team would rally behind Dolan and Thomas.
"We all know what kind of guy 'Mr. D' is," he said before the jury awarded punitive damages. "We all know what kind of guy Isiah is and how they treat us. I'm sure all you guys agree this is a first-class organization."

MSG is owned by Cablevision Systems Corp., based in Bethpage, N.Y., and Dolan is Cablevision's CEO. Shares fell 35 cents, or 1 percent, to $34.71 in afternoon trading.