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Books for Less settles discrimination case

Joe Napsha
| Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A group of 21 former Books for Less Inc. employees, including 13 who worked at the company's Blawnox warehouse, will share in a $180,000 settlement of a racial and sexual discrimination suit against the wholesale book distributor, the federal government said Monday.

The employees alleged in a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit that they were called "stupid and lazy" by superiors, were subject of sexual innuendoes and were fired when they complained about the treatment by the New York-based company.

The federal commission said in a consent decree signed Friday by Books for Less that the company, led by president Michael Shmuley, not only discriminated against black men and women, but also against a white woman who was friends with those co-workers, and retaliated against workers by suing some of them in Allegheny County Court.

The consent decree stems from charges filed with the federal commission in August 2006 by a worker in the company's New York office, then amended in January 2007, to add workers with additional complaints of discrimination.

"To him (Shmuley), these people were expendable," said Sunu P. Chandy, an attorney for the EEOC in New York.

The company president made some of the racial and sexual slurs while talking on a speaker phone to workers in Blawnox and during visits to Blawnox, Chandy said. He allegedly said that his employees worked at a "plantation," a reference to large Southern farms where black slaves toiled for white owners before the Civil War, Chandy said.

Shmuley could not be reached for comment at his office in New York. He wrote in a March 6 letter that "while we do not believe that we have done anything to violate the law, we have decided that it is better for everyone to put this behind us."

Shmuley said in a letter to employees that a new policy banning discrimination would be put in place and training would be conducted.

While the total amount of the settlement was made public, Chandy said the actual amounts that each of the employees will receive is determined by several factors, including the first workers to complain and seniority.

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