PUBLIX OFFERS TO SETTLE RACE CASE FOR $10M

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Publix Super Markets here has proposed to settle a class-action discrimination lawsuit for $10.1 million.Publix has sought approval for the settlement from the U.S. District Court in Tampa, Fla. The suit, which alleged Publix passed over some employees for promotions because of their race, was brought against the chain in 1997 and granted class-action status last year.The proposal,

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Publix Super Markets here has proposed to settle a class-action discrimination lawsuit for $10.1 million.

Publix has sought approval for the settlement from the U.S. District Court in Tampa, Fla. The suit, which alleged Publix passed over some employees for promotions because of their race, was brought against the chain in 1997 and granted class-action status last year.

The proposal, which includes no admission of wrongdoing by Publix, would pay $7.7 million to around 15,000 current and former black workers. Publix would also pay $2.4 million to the plaintiffs' lawyers.

Known as the Middleton case, the suit was brought against Publix by a group of black workers in Florida alleging they were passed over for promotions, paid less than white workers doing similar jobs or wrongly terminated on the basis of race. The settlement calls for Publix to pay $2.25 million for promotion claims and $5.45 million for discharges dating back to 1993.

Separately, Publix will pay $55,000 to each of the seven lead plaintiffs. Another plaintiff will receive $15,000, reports said.

Despite notoriety in such publications as Fortune as one of the best places to work, employee-owned Publix has been a magnet for employee lawsuits in recent years. The Middleton case was filed just months after Publix reached a $81.5 million settlement in a sex-discrimination class-action case. In November, a group of Hispanic employees from a Miami-area warehouse filed suit, claiming they were passed over for promotions.

The chain has also clashed often with the United Food and Commercial Workers union, which has yet to organize workers at any of Publix's 646 stores. The Washington-based union aided in soliciting plaintiffs to sue Publix in the Middleton case, Jill Cashen, a UFCW spokeswoman, said.

"We believe in helping workers through organization, and that does not always mean creating a union," Cashen told SN.

The agreement calls for Publix to continue its program launched in 1997 that allows employees to register an interest in promotions and would maintain its goals for promotions into management positions. Publix said those programs have increased retail management positions held by blacks to 8.4%, a 37% increase since 1997.

Publix also said it would review its processes regarding discharging employees.

"The decision to discharge an associate is based on our rules of unacceptable conduct," Howard Jenkins, Publix's chairman and chief executive officer, said in a statement. "Our goal has always been to ensure fairness and dignity in dealing with these difficult decisions. Under the agreement, we will formalize and improve how we review associate discharges."