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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Kodak agrees to settle race discrimination lawsuit

By CAROLYN THOMPSON (AP) – Jul 15, 2009

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Eastman Kodak Co. has agreed to pay $21.4 million to settle legal action brought by black workers who claim the photography products maker paid and promoted them less than their white co-workers.

The deal was given preliminary approval by a federal judge last month, according to court documents. It would have the Rochester-based company, while admitting no wrongdoing, pay amounts ranging from $1,000 to $75,000 to 3,021 past and current workers.

The proposed settlement would end both a 2004 class-action lawsuit brought by a group called Employees Committed for Justice and a similar suit filed by other black workers in 2007.

Kodak spokesman Christopher Veronda said the company and plaintiffs had agreed not to publicly discuss the proposed settlement. He provided a written statement that said all sides "believe that this settlement represents a resolution of mutual interest."

"The parties took into account the risk of further litigation, including the potential for significant delay as well as the potential for further lengthy and expensive legal proceedings," the statement said.

As part of the deal, Kodak promised to enhance its diversity training for supervisors and said it would hire an industrial psychologist and labor statistician to review its pay and promotion policies and recommend improvements.

A final approval hearing is scheduled for Sept. 15 in federal court in Rochester.

The settlement comes a decade after Kodak paid $10 million in back wages and granted $3 million in annual raises to correct disparities in pay and promotions for black and female workers in some departments dating to 1996.

Plaintiffs in the 2004 lawsuit charged that the 1999 program did nothing to correct Kodak's discriminatory practices and accused the company of maintaining "a work environment that is hostile to its African American employees."

Plaintiffs said that in addition to being passed over for promotions, they were subject to racist comments from co-workers and supervisors and graffiti on bathroom walls, lockers and delivery trucks.

One of the plaintiffs, reached Wednesday by phone, declined to comment on the settlement, saying she had signed a confidentiality agreement.

A call to the group's lead attorney, Shanon Carson of the Philadelphia firm Berger & Montague, was not immediately returned.

On the Net:

Eastman Kodak Co.: http://www.kodak.com

African Americans Lost Ground on Fortune 500 Boards

July 21, 2009

A recent study on African Americans on boards of directors of Fortune 500 companies commissioned by The Executive Leadership Council(R) found that the number of board seats held by African Americans has declined since its inaugural board report released in 2004. The percentage of African Americans on corporate boards decreased from 8.1 in 2004 to 7.4 percent in 2008, a .7 percent decline. Four years ago, African Americans held 449 corporate board seats and today they hold 413 or thirty-six fewer.

“African Americans lost ground in the boardrooms of corporate America between 2004 and 2008,” said Dr. Ancella B. Livers, executive director of The Executive Leadership Council’s Institute for Leadership Development & Research. “The total number of board seats during the period declined as well, but not nearly as much as the number of seats held by African Americans. In light of current economic conditions and board reviews, there is an opportunity for companies to increase board diversity and reverse the downward trend.”

There were 5,556 director seats available in 2008, 16 fewer than the 5,572 available in 2004. The importance of diversity on corporate boards is likely to become more apparent as organizations recognize that changing demographics are altering the nation’s business needs. Many corporations realize the benefits they have achieved from a diverse workforce and are beginning to make inroads on their governing boards of directors. The study shows that the higher an organization is on the Fortune 500 list, the more likely it is to have African Americans on its board of directors.

“It’s been proven again and again that companies with board members who reflect gender & ethnic diversity also tend to have better returns on equity and sales,” said Carl Brooks, president and CEO of The Executive Leadership Council. “Businesses understand the economic benefits of diversity. They talk about it, but not all of them have a plan for achieving it. We expect this report to spur meaningful progress in this important area of management and governance.”

Even as many Fortune 500 organizations understand the importance of having diverse boards, gains are sometimes difficult to maintain. Since the original report in 2004, the mix of Fortune 500 companies has changed with some companies moving off the list and other, previously smaller organizations moving onto it. Companies are reevaluating their governance structure following the economic turmoil of the past year and now have the opportunity to introduce new experience and thinking on boards.

As a member of the Alliance for Board Diversity (ABD), The Executive Leadership Council is a strategic partner with Catalyst, the Hispanic Association for Corporate Responsibility (HACR) and Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics (L.E.A.P.). The Alliance uses a business focus to support and advance the business interests of executive women and minorities in the workplace, including increasing the diversity pipeline in corporate America and guaranteeing the fair representation of women and minorities on corporate boards.

Corporate boards remain overwhelmingly white and male. ABD partners are determined to make the business case for inclusion on corporate boards through the belief that shareholder interests are best served by promoting the diversification of boardrooms within publicly traded U.S. companies.

This is the third publication of the Census of African Americans on Boards of Directors of Fortune 500 Companies. This census is a listing of African American board members of Fortune 500 companies and is based on data from fiscal year 2007. In addition to presenting a listing of African-American board members of Fortune 500 companies, the 2008 census examines firm and industry data of Fortune 500 companies regarding the extent to which African Americans are represented on corporate boards. It also examines geographical data of Fortune 500 companies regarding the extent to which African Americans are represented on corporate boards.

-Provides demographic profiles of African Americans serving on corporate boards.
-Presents data comparing firms with “best diversity practices” and board diversity.
-Presents a trend analysis of African American board representation from the inaugural 2004 report.

In addition to the information above, the full census report provides a comparison of African American directors of Fortune 500 companies to other underrepresented groups (i.e., women,Hispanics, Asians) serving on Fortune 500 boards and analyzes committee membership (e.g., nominations, finance, etc.) of African American directors serving on Fortune 500 boards.

Written by staff · Filed Under Business

QuikTrip to pay nearly $750,000 in back pay

WASHINGTON — Convenience store operator QuikTrip Corp. is paying current and former employees in nine states nearly $750,000 in overtime back wages following an investigation by the Labor Department.

The agency found the Tulsa, Okla.-based store failed to pay 3,819 workers the overtime compensation they were supposed to receive.

The employees worked in Arizona, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Philadelphia Settled Firefighters' Discrimination Suit

by Jeff Shields, Inquirer Staff Writer

The City of Philadelphia this year quietly paid out $275,000 to settle claims by five white firefighters that they had been discriminated against in the promotion process.

Not only did the city pay five lieutenants between $30,000 and $40,000 each in the January settlement of a 2007 federal civil-rights lawsuit, but the Fire Department also agreed to address the officers' complaints that the promotional exams they took in 2005 were skewed against them in favor of minority candidates.

The settlement suggests that the city gave some credibility to the officers' claims - including one that the city purposely brought in minority officers to administer the tests.

The settlement was marked "confidential," but the city released it to The Inquirer under the state Right to Know Act.

The settlement allowed the city to avoid a lengthy litigation and appeals process such as the City of New Haven, Conn., experienced in a 2004 lawsuit by 20 white firefighters who challenged their city's promotion process. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in their favor.

The Philadelphia case underscores a similar, ongoing racial tension in the department in regard to promotions and how the tests are given and scored.

Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers could not be reached for comment. Everett Gillison, the deputy mayor for public safety, said he was not familiar with details of the lawsuit and would not comment until he had reviewed it.

The Philadelphia lieutenants - Francis J. Hannan, Joseph Lee Jr., Gerard Kots, Michael Wellock, and Thomas G. Leonard - sued the city in September 2007, claiming that they had been "systematically or otherwise downgraded" because of their race during the oral portion of the July 2005 fire captain's examination.

None of the five was promoted at the time - Hannan and Lee made captain in subsequent promotion rounds.

In the suit, the men alleged that the "raters" - fire officers from other cities brought in to administer tests, a practice in most departments - were told before the tests that the department "was 'in dire' need of minority and female fire officers," according to the complaint.

Of the 14 raters brought in for the 2005 captains test, 10 were African American, some of them members of the International Association of Black Professional Firefighters, which has advanced the cause of blacks in the firehouses nationally, according to the complaint.

The five white lieutenants lost points for such things as lack of "appropriate eye contact," mistakenly addressing a female rater as "Sir," and for "being too wordy," according to the complaint.

While the city denied in the settlement "that it engaged in any discrimination or retaliation in any manner whatsoever," it agreed to:

Develop written procedures for selecting raters that prohibit an expressed preference for minority raters.

Instruct raters not to consider race or gender and not provide the raters with racial or gender demographics of the department.

Develop guidelines for evaluating communication skills that will be shared with promotion candidates.

Refrain from retaliating against any of the plaintiffs.

The city paid Kots and Leonard $30,000 each; Hannan and Lee $35,000 each; and Wellock $40,000. Their attorneys split a total of $105,000.

Dissent over the testing process - particularly the oral section - is a decades-old problem. The city's promotional process is weighted: 45 percent for a written test, 45 percent for an oral test, and 10 percent for seniority.

At one time, African American firefighters complained that the oral test was a way to keep them from promotions.

Blacks now make up 28 percent of the department, whites 66 percent, and Hispanics 6 percent. Six percent are women.

Today, with a 1985 consent decree in place requiring at least 12 percent of new hires to be African American, and with African Americans in top leadership posts including the commissioner, Ayers, it has been white officers who have railed against the process.

"Commissioner Ayers has systematically demonstrated bias against Caucasian fire fighters and fire officers," attorneys Arthur L. Bugay and Gerald Williams wrote in their complaint for the five officers.

Mayor Nutter's spokesman, Doug Oliver, called that comment "absurd . . . harmful, unfair, and undeserved. Anyone who knows Commissioner Ayers knows that he is a consummate professional and that he executes the responsibilities of his office with integrity."

The controversy over the testing process has produced a sometimes-divided department with groups like Club Valiants Inc., an organization of black firefighters that fought for the consent decree, and the local Concerned American Firefighters Association chapter, which supported the white officers known as the "New Haven 20."

Lt. Kenneth W. Greene Sr., Club Valiants president, said his group had no problem with the promotion-testing system or the role of oral exams.

"I don't see how someone can have a problem trying to explain themselves unless they didn't know what they were talking about," he said. Greene called the 26 percent representation of African Americans in the department "sad."

The International Association of Fire Fighters Local 22, which represents the city's 2,100-plus firefighters, last year asked the city to eliminate the oral portion of the promotional exams.

Bill Gault, who takes over as president of Local 22 today from outgoing president Brian McBride, said yesterday: "There's never going to be people happy with the oral. It's way too subjective."

The city refused to do away with the oral exam, asserting its prerogative to manage the tests as it sees fit.

During arbitration this year, Local 22 proposed that the tests be scored on 50 percent written, 25 percent oral, and 25 percent seniority, said union attorney Rick Poulson.

"We'd like to have some processes in place that allow us to avoid the infighting and find the most qualified candidates to do this important work," Poulson said yesterday. "Every time there's a list that comes out, there's a lawsuit."

The New Haven case, in which that city threw out the results of a 2003 written test when it produced no minority candidates, might cause cities to rely even more on oral exams, said attorney Bugay.

"Cities may try to make examinations entirely oral, and that would be problematic," he said. "Because the written part of the exam is actually the most objective part of the promotional exam process, by definition."

The Supreme Court case may discourage cities "from administering their own ad hoc affirmative-action policies that harm the civil rights of others," Bugay said.

Union lawyer Poulson said New Haven "gives us an excuse to reexamine a promotional process that is broken."


Contact staff writer Jeff Shields at 215-854-4565 or jshields@phillynews.com.