Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Walgreens Settles Race Bias Suits for $24.4 Million

Drugstore giant Walgreens will pay $24.4 million to 14 black management employees to settle race discrimination claims in two consolidated lawsuits in Illinois.

Walgreens denies any systemic discrimination and says it agreed to settle the case to avoid the expense of litigation.

The settlement covers all black employees who served as management trainees, executive assistant managers, store managers, pharmacists and pharmacy managers for any period between June 20, 2001, and March 24, 2008.

The plaintiffs and those who did not opt out of the suit will share $18.9 million from the settlement fund, and the $5.5 million balance will cover attorney fees.

The case began in 2005, when plaintiff John Tucker filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois over Walgreens' alleged racially discriminatory employment practices.

Tucker, who said his situation is typical of what the other plaintiffs faced, was a store manager in primarily black and low-income areas of Independence, Mo., according to the suit.

His class-action complaint said the stress of working in stores with high customer volume and security and safety problems forced him to take disability leave after the company refused to reassign him.

Although Tucker initially was accepted into the company's "emerging leaders" program in 2002, he was removed from the program because he had no college degree and was not taking classes to obtain one, the suit said.

However, he said Walgreens knew when it accepted him into the program that he had no degree and was not taking classes.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed its own lawsuit against the chain in March 2007, alleging that Walgreens engaged in a pattern and practice of discrimination against black management trainees, managers and pharmacists in violation of federal civil rights law.

The EEOC's claims essentially mirrored those in the 2005 complaint, which Tucker filed on behalf of black employees working in 4,700 stores in 44 states.

Most were placed in the most difficult stores and forced to deal with sagging profits, crime and other problems, according to the suit.

Both actions were consolidated in May 2007, with the court joining 13 of the EEOC plaintiffs into Tucker's case.

The settlement requires Walgreens to provide antidiscrimination training for all upper-management employees and to ensure their compliance with the company's policies for maintaining a "diverse work environment free from unlawful discrimination," the agreement says.

It does not cover a retaliation claim Tucker filed with the EEOC in October 2006.