Women praised the largest sex discrimination settlement ever reached by the U.S. Labor Department as a "moral victory" Wednesday, but the bank involved claimed no defeat.
The $14 million settlement, to be shared by an estimated 5,000 women and minority group members, arose out of a 1977 case in which the Labor Department accused Chicago's Harris Trust and Savings Bank of promoting white men at a higher rate and paying them more than women and minority workers with comparable skills.Under terms of the agreement announced Tuesday, women and minority workers employed by Harris from 1973 to 1988 will share $14 million in back pay.
In addition, the bank must revise its affirmative action policies and set up training programs for women and minorities seeking promotions.
"This was for myself and many others a moral victory, a victory of principle," said Marti Page, a former Harris employee. She said six years of hard work left her doing little more than clerical tasks while earning 25 percent less than newly hired male colleagues with similar qualifications.
Harris officials called the settlement "a window out" of a sticky legal situation that cost 11 years of legal fees and bad publicity.
"We do not acknowledge any wrongdoing," company spokeswoman Mary Ullrich said.
In pursuing the case before an administrative law judge, the federal government charged systemic discrimination throughout the company. The Labor Department's solicitor, George R. Salem, said the settlement would benefit not only Harris workers but "all women and minority group workers in the American labor force."