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Woman Wins $3.1 Million in Sex Discrimination Case : Verdict: Employee of La Jolla firm was passed over twice for promotions that went to men she trained.

June 17, 1992|ALAN ABRAHAMSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — A 48-year-old woman passed over for promotion and then fired from La Jolla-based Science Applications International Corp. won $3.1 million in court Tuesday, the largest award ever issued by a San Diego County jury in a sex discrimination suit.

Bernice Stanfill of Del Mar, who worked her way up in 16 years at SAIC from secretary to corporate vice president, was passed over for promotion in favor of one man, then another a few years later. After training both those men in company policy, she was fired in 1987 in what the company claimed was a budget-driven cutback.

The jury, however, found that her firing was based on her sex, was a breach of contract and violated the laws against sex discrimination in the workplace. The record award, Stanfill said late Tuesday, served as vindication.

"This is a real important verdict because there are a lot of women like me, who do a real good job, and expect they'll be given the same kind of treatment that anybody who does a good job will get," she said. "But a lot of women, particularly at this company, are not treated even like regular citizens, much less like first-class citizens."

SAIC spokesman Chuck Nichols called the award "wrong." In a written statement, Nichols said, "No one ever likes to have layoffs, but Ms. Stanfill was treated fairly, and the company intends to appeal the decision."

San Diego legal experts said the $3.1 million easily tops other local jury verdicts in sex discrimination cases.

Last October, a Los Angeles Superior Court jury hit Texaco with the largest jury award ever in an individual's sex bias suit, $20.3 million in favor of Janella Sue Martin, a 48-year-old credit supervisor. Martin alleged that she lost promotions to men she maintained were less competent.

Class-action suits, the technical name for those cases that combine the claims of many women, have produced whopping settlements that dwarf even $20.3 million. In April, State Farm Insurance Co. agreed to pay $157 million to 814 California women who contended they were denied jobs as sales agents because of their sex.

SAIC, best known as a federal contractor, makes products for national security, energy production, health and environmental production and high-technology fields. Its products include highly sensitive bomb detectors used at airports.

About 3,500 people in San Diego, and 13,500 worldwide, are employed by the firm.

With only a high school diploma, Stanfill began working at SAIC in 1972 as a secretary. Within four years, she became manager of the program that made sure SAIC complied with all rules and regulations about company stock, according to legal papers in the case.

In 1984, Stanfill's supervisor, a man, left the company. Instead of letting her take over the job, SAIC replaced him with another man.

Two years later, that man left. The company replaced him with another man, according to court records.

Stanfill's job became training both these men, said Peter Friesen, her San Diego attorney. In September, 1987, when that task was done, she was fired, Friesen said.

SAIC spokesman Nichols said Stanfill was let go in a 1987 cutback at corporate offices.

The year she was let go--the fiscal year that ended Jan. 31, 1988--the company reported earnings of $21 million on revenues of $693 million, according to court records. "It didn't look right that it should be laying people off," Friesen said.

For the fiscal year ended Jan. 31, 1992, SAIC reported earnings of $33.6 million on revenues of $1.28 billion.

After a trial that lasted about a month before San Diego Superior Court Judge Thomas LaVoy in Chula Vista, a jury awarded Stanfill $967,871 in lost wages and $200,000 for pain and suffering. It deliberated 45 minutes Tuesday morning before slamming SAIC with a $2-million punitive damages award.

According to an internal company study disclosed to lawyers in the case in preparation for the trial, "there is a general perception at SAIC, especially among women, that a glass ceiling does exist," meaning women are not promoted to upper management because of sex.

The report, produced last fall, said 841 employees are classified as management, 92 of whom are women, about 11%. Of the 98 top-paid managers, none are women, according to the report.

On average, according to the internal study, women were paid from 3% to 14% less than men for equivalent jobs.

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