NEWS WATCH: WAL-MART APPEALS RULING IN DISCRIMINATION CASE...KROGER WORKERS RATIFY NEW CONTRACT IN SOUTHEAST...CHAINS SETTLE CALIFORNIA JANITOR LAWSUIT: REPORTS

WAL-MART APPEALS RULING IN DISCRIMINATION CASEStores here last week asked a federal appeals court to review last month's granting of class-action status to a sex discrimination suit against it by a San Francisco judge. Wal-Mart argued the case should not have been certified as a class action because the complaints against individual stores do not fairly represent the actions of the entire company,

WAL-MART APPEALS RULING IN DISCRIMINATION CASE

Stores here last week asked a federal appeals court to review last month's granting of class-action status to a sex discrimination suit against it by a San Francisco judge. Wal-Mart argued the case should not have been certified as a class action because the complaints against individual stores do not fairly represent the actions of the entire company, reports said. The retailer added that the "elephantine" size of the case made it unmanageable and that a ruling against it could compensate those who weren't discriminated against and unfairly reward any who were.

KROGER WORKERS RATIFY NEW CONTRACT IN SOUTHEAST

CINCINNATI -- Kroger here and United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1995, Hermitage, Ky., said union members have ratified a new, four-year agreement covering 9,500 Kroger workers in eastern Tennessee, southern Kentucky and northern Alabama. "This agreement represents a balanced solution that provides our associates with the high-quality health care and a competitive wage they need, at a cost that is fair to everyone involved," said John Hackett, president of Kroger's Mid-South division, in a prepared statement. In the same statement, Joe Ellis, president, UFCW Local 1995, said the agreement boosts funding for the employees' pension plan. Neither Kroger nor Ellis could be reached for further comment.

CHAINS SETTLE CALIFORNIA JANITOR LAWSUIT: REPORTS

LOS ANGELES -- The three major chains here have reportedly reached a preliminary settlement in a four-year-old class-action lawsuit that claimed they knowingly allowed subcontracting companies to deny janitors days off or overtime pay. Representatives of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which filed the lawsuit, declined to comment on published reports that a settlement had been achieved. The suit alleged that contractors hired by the supermarkets to supply them with janitorial services had committed multiple wage-and-hour violations, including not giving workers days off, not paying them overtime, and not providing them with workers' compensation coverage. SN reported last year that Kroger had already reached a preliminary settlement of the claims, though terms of that settlement were not released.

HOMELAND SECURITY, USDA LAUNCH FOOD-SAFETY CENTER

MINNEAPOLIS -- Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and Agricultural Secretary Ann Veneman launched the Center for Post-Harvest Food Protection and Defense at the University of Minnesota here last week. The center, funded by a $15 million, three-year grant, will involve collaboration among educators, growers, food companies and retailers. It is one of four anti-terrorism centers being created at universities around the country. Texas A&M University was picked to host a center on animal diseases; a third center is planned for the University of Southern California to conduct an economic analysis of terrorism; and a fourth center focusing on the behavioral and social aspects of terrorism has yet to be unveiled.

KROGER PAYS RIVALS $32 MILLION IN MUTUAL-AID PACT

CINCINNATI -- Kroger here said it paid $32 million to Albertsons, Boise, Idaho, and Safeway, Pleasanton, Calif., in the first quarter as part of a mutual-aid agreement related to the labor dispute in Southern California. The payment is in addition to the $116 million Kroger paid Albertsons and Safeway last year in the pact, in which the three chains had agreed to share revenues if any of them benefited from the union's actions during the strike-lockout. The United Food & Commercial Workers removed pickets from Kroger's Ralphs stores on Oct. 31, which was the 20th day of the 141-day strike-lockout.