- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 23, 2000

The government yesterday agreed to pay $508 million plus back pay to 1,100 women to end a sex discrimination lawsuit brought in 1977 against the U.S. Information Agency and the Voice of America in what attorneys for the women said was the largest such settlement of its kind.
The 23-year-old suit accused the USIA, now part of the State Department, and the VOA, the government's radio broadcaster abroad, of discriminating against the women by systematically rejecting their employment applications. The suit said the agency "rejected employment applications from women based on their sex" in violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
"There was overwhelming evidence of obvious, persistent, entrenched discrimination," said Bruce Fredrickson, an attorney for the women. "Highly qualified women with specific relevant experience were routinely rejected in favor of men with fewer skills and less experience."
The settlement, which still has to be approved by U.S. District Judge James Robertson, was announced in Washington by the Justice Department.
Under terms of the settlement, each of the women will receive payments of about $450,000. In addition, the government already has begun to pay the plaintiffs' Washington attorneys Webster, Fredrickson & Brackshaw more than $12 million.
The stage for a settlement was set in the case earlier this year when Judge Robertson and a U.S. appeals court ruled that the matter could be brought as a class-action suit. Lawyers for the government and the plaintiffs had been through 48 individual award hearings, including an award of $1.06 million to one woman, before the matter was settled as a class action.
The women had prevailed in 46 of the 48 cases. Prior to the settlement, the government had insisted on contesting every claim, one by one, before a court-appointed special master.
According to the suit, the women sought jobs as international radio broadcasters, radio electronic technicians, writers, editors and production specialists at the USIA and VOA beginning in 1974.
Many of them, the suit said, were experienced broadcasters from the British Broadcasting Corp. or other national and international news outlets, qualified writers and reporters, or experienced technicians and producers for network television and radio.
The suit said that employment tests were rigged, that successful test scores by the women were destroyed and that lesser test scores of some of the men were changed to avoid having to hire the women. It also said some of the women were told by their USIA and VOA male counterparts when they applied that they were "taking away practically the bread from a man's mouth, from his family."
The court also ordered the government to pay back pay and interest totaling $22.7 million. Many of the women also were awarded job relief and federal government retirement accounts. The $22.7 million in individual awards will be paid by the government in addition to the $508 million settlement.
Since 1984, the government has filed and lost two appeals of the case and was denied a hearing by the Supreme Court.
"After exhausting our legal remedies regarding the trial court's finding of classwide liability and litigating the claims of 48 individual class members, we negotiated a classwide settlement that is an equitable and fair resolution of the matter," said Wilma A. Lewis, U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia.
"The settlement amount is the result of the lengthy time period involved, the relatively high-paying positions at issue, the number of claimants and the accrual of prejudgment interest beginning in 1991," she said.
Susan Brackshaw, another attorney in the case, said trials disclosed that the USIA and the VOA regularly manipulated the hiring process to exclude women and that the agencies "rigged the system" in favor of men and in some cases resorted to test fraud, altering test scores and destroying personnel and test files.
"This settlement is a tribute to the commitment and courage of 1,100 women who stood shoulder to shoulder in the face of deep-rooted discrimination and would not surrender even after two decades of litigation," she said. "This day belongs to them."

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