A federal judge has approved a settlement of a sex-discrimination suit against State Farm Insurance Co. that grants women who were denied jobs as insurance agents in California up to $420,000 each.
The settlement, restricted to California because the case was filed as a state class-action suit, also requires that 50 percent of the sales agents hired by the company during the next 10 years be women.Lawyers for three women who sued on behalf of the discrimination victims said the total award could range between $100 million and $300 million, a record for a civil rights suit, based on 1,100 jobs that were filled between 1974 and 1987, the years covered by the suit.
But company lawyers say the payment estimate is far too high in light of the stringenttest claimants will have to meet.
To qualify for an award, a woman must not only show that she was rejected or was discouraged from applying for an agent's job during the period, but also convince a court-appointed fact-finder that she was more qualified than the man who was hired. She would then collect between $15,575 and $420,822, which includes the amount of pay she was wrongfully denied and interest on that figure. The women would receive additional interest from now until the date they are paid.
The suit was filed in 1979 by three former company secretaries, Muriel Kraszewski of Los Angeles County, Wilda Tipton of Ventura County and Daisy Jackson of Santa Clara County, who has since died. Under the settlement, each, including Ms. Jackson's estate, will get the maximum award of $420,822.
U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson ruled in 1985 that State Farm had discriminated against women in hiring, prompting the settlement negotiations.
Judge Henderson approved the settlement Tuesday after a brief hearing, calling it fair and comprehensive. He deferred a ruling, however, on whether some women would be allowed to sue separately in state court on discrimination claims.
The four-month claims period will begin May 1. Women who applied for jobs with the company between 1974 and 1987 will be mailed claim forms, said Guy Saperstein, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.