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Women Get $8 Million in CBS Bias Settlement

October 26, 2000|LISA GIRION | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CBS Inc. agreed Wednesday to pay $8 million to more than 200 women technicians working at CBS television stations across the country, including KCBS in Los Angeles, to settle a lawsuit that alleged the women were harassed and passed over for promotion and special assignments.

"There have been many lawsuits on behalf of women who are in front of the camera, but this is the first lawsuit of its kind that addresses the problems of women behind the camera," said Susan Stokes, a Minneapolis private attorney for the plaintiffs.

The settlement of the class-action lawsuit, filed in 1996 in Minnesota and a second claim filed Wednesday in New York City requires CBS to make several operational changes designed to open opportunities for women technicians, and to make detailed reports of promotions, overtime pay and special assignments for four years to a law firm representing the women and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Stokes said she believes the agreement breaks ground at the seven CBS owned-and-operated TV stations targeted by the lawsuit and could pave the way for changes at other stations.

"Once you sue a major company in an industry, the rest of the companies sit up and say, 'We'd better look at our own house and see what our own problems are and fix what needs to be corrected,' " she said.

CBS admitted no wrongdoing in agreeing to the settlement.

"We do not believe there was any discrimination. However, given the expenses associated with such a long-standing litigation, we felt we were best served to move on," CBS said in a statement. "We can now look forward and continue to improve upon what we feel is a solid record of diversity in the workplace."

The EEOC investigated the women's complaints and concluded last year that there was evidence of discrimination, said Elizabeth Grossman, an EEOC attorney in New York.

Los Angeles' KCBS, New York's WCBS and Chicago's WBBM were the largest employers in the suit, with about 50 plaintiffs each.

KCBS did not return a call seeking comment.

The lead plaintiff alleged that she was passed up for promotions during the 17 years she worked at a Minneapolis station. Other women claimed they were routinely passed over for choice assignments, such as presidential debates and the Olympics, which carry a great deal of overtime. Those who complained were the targets of retaliation, Stokes said.

Under the settlement, CBS must adopt and distribute a new nondiscrimination policy and undertake company-wide training. The network also must adopt new procedures for posting openings, opportunities for overtime and special assignments.

That "is as important as the monetary relief to these women," Stokes said. "They were committed to achieving some kind of level playing field for the other women who work there."

The technicians work for engineering and operations departments at the local stations, which primarily support the production of their TV news shows.

Women broke into the ranks of television technicians 15 to 20 years ago. Operating cameras and performing other behind-the-scenes work, technicians are paid by the hour. Their annual earnings range from $30,000 to $100,000, depending on the market and the amount of overtime.

The settlement, which will be presented to a federal judge in St. Paul next month, divides the $8 million according to the women's length of service and type of claim. No average or range of payouts had been calculated.

In 1998, Mitsubishi's North American division settled a sex-discrimination lawsuit filed by 500 women at its Normal, Ill., plant for what was then a record $34 million. Earlier this year, the federal government agreed to settle a case against the now-defunct U.S. Information Agency, in which 1,100 women alleged they were denied jobs because of their gender, for a record $508 million.

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