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EMPLOYMENT LAW 10/19/06

Woodward Governor Company to pay $5 million to resolve job bias claims

In October, an Illinois federal judge preliminarily approved a $5 million consent decree designed to end two consolidated class action employment discrimination lawsuits against the Woodward Governor Company, a global provider of engine systems and parts, according to the EEOC (Bell, et al v Woodward Governor Co, NDIll, no 03 50190; EEOC v Woodward Governor Co, NDIll, no 06 C 50178).

Preliminary consent decree. The consolidated lawsuits challenged illegal patterns or practices of employment discrimination against African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians and women in the areas of pay, promotion and training in violation of the Title VII and the Equal Pay Act. Judge Philip G. Reinhard of the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Western Division, sitting in Rockford, Illinois, preliminarily approved the consent decree.

The $5 million settlement fund will be shared by minorities employed at Woodward's Rockford and Rockton, Illinois facilities at any time since May 1999, and women employed at those facilities at any time since June 2002. The consolidated lawsuits sought relief for African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians on account of race and national origin discrimination. The EEOC's lawsuit also sought relief for women on account of sex discrimination.

The court will hold a final hearing, currently slated for February 2007, at which it will make a final determination as to the fairness of the preliminarily approved consent decree. At the same hearing, the court is expected to pass upon individual distribution amounts from the $5 million settlement fund.

Non-monetary relief. In addition to monetary relief, the consent decree provides for potentially far-reaching changes inside the plants, particularly in the areas of pay, promotion, training and handling of employee complaints of discrimination. The decree requires that an industrial psychologist, Dr. Kathleen Lundquist and her staff at Applied Psychological Techniques, Inc, conduct analyses of the jobs which were the subject of the suits to provide a foundation for nondiscriminatory adjustments in job assignments and compensation at the facilities.

The consent decree also designates Nancy B. Kreiter of Chicago to serve for the duration of the decree for the purpose of overseeing Woodward's implementation of and compliance with the terms of the decree, and to provide advice and assistance to Woodward. Kreiter will report annually to the court with respect to Woodward's progress in implementing the decree.

Kreiter's previous employment discrimination experience includes serving as a court-appointed consent decree monitor in EEOC v The Dial Corp and EEOC v Mitsubishi, both multi-million dollar sexual harassment class actions, and as research director of Women Employed in Chicago.

Long-term systemic relief. John Hendrickson, the EEOC's regional attorney in Chicago, said, "The EEOC is more than satisfied with the consent decree preliminarily approved this afternoon by Judge Reinhard. Five million dollars will create a very substantial settlement fund and provide real and fair compensation to the victims of discrimination. Beyond that, the decree's non-monetary relief requirements mean that we are really digging into long-standing patterns of discrimination and addressing them in a systemic way. This has got to be good not only for our class members, but also for other Woodward employees, and, indeed, for the company itself."

"Finally," Hendrickson added, "the comprehensive oversight which is assured by Nancy Kreieter's appointment means that this is not going to be merely a short-term monetary fix. Instead, we are expecting to see, over the long term, broad implementation of both the letter and spirit of the decree real systemic change which will bring about concrete and long-lasting equality of opportunity."

Plaintiffs in the private class action were represented by Jennifer K. Soule, James G. Bradtke and Kelly K. Lambert of Soule, Bradtke & Lambert of Chicago. Firms associated with them on the case were Robert D. Allison & Associates, Law Offices of Stephen G. Seliger and Hughes Socol Piers Resnick & Dym, Ltd, all of Chicago, and Law Offices of Peter G. Earle of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

For more information on this and other topics, consult CCH Employment Practices Guide or CCH Labor Relations.

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