NEW YORK (CNNfn) - In what is being hailed as a victory for women in the workplace, Mitsubishi Motors agreed Thursday to pay a record $34 million to settle claims that female autoworkers were repeatedly harassed.
Under terms of the settlement -- the largest amount ever paid in resolution of a sexual harassment case -- Mitsubishi Motor Manufacturing of America Inc. will distribute the money among all eligible claimants.
The Normal, Ill.-based automaker, a subsidiary of Mitsubishi Motors Corp., said the settlement resolves all claims in the lawsuit brought against the company on April 9, 1996 by the EEOC on behalf of several hundred women employees.
Under the agreement, the EEOC will have complete discretion in determining who qualifies as an eligible claimant.
The agency will determine the amount of damages awarded to each claimant based on numerous factors, including the severity of the harassment or retaliation, the duration of harassment and whether or not the employee was discharged.
No claimant will receive more than $300,000 in monetary relief.
"This is a fair settlement designed to accelerate the creation of a workplace that is free of sexual harassment," said Judge Abner Mikva, who was appointed by the court two months ago to facilitate settlement discussions.
He added this is a win-win situation for all parties involved. (504K WAV or 504K AIF)
In a court filing last year, the EEOC described sexual harassment at the plant as "repeated, routine, generalized, serious, pervasive and known to and supported by management."
The EEOC is the federal agency charged with enforcing federal statutes that prohibit employment discrimination.
"The people of the United States have looked to all of their institutions -- the government, our employers, and our labor unions -- to act decisively to stop the serious problem of sexual harassment," said EEOC Chairman Paul M. Igasaki. "By now agreeing to pay $34 million, the largest amount ever paid in resolution of a sexual harassment case, and to work with the panel of Decree Monitors, MMMA is demonstrating that it stands ready to so act."
He added one of the most important elements of this settlement is "what happens from this day forward." (670K WAV or 670K AIF)
Mitsubishi Motors Corp. President Katsuhiko Kawasoe said: "We are pleased that MMMA has reached a resolution with the EEOC in this matter. This is the right business decision in order to be able to move forward. We support MMMA's future efforts in working with the EEOC to carry out the terms of the consent decree."
The EEOC sued Mitsubishi in April 1996 on behalf of 300 women employees at the company's plant in Normal, Ill.
The employees charged male colleagues with groping and touching them and said they had to have sexual relations to keep their jobs.
As part of the settlement, the company also agreed to revise its existing sexual harassment policy and complaint procedure, to aggressively investigate complaints, and to provide mandatory sexual harassment training to its employees.
Terms of the settlement, which are subject to court approval, are outlined in a proposed consent decree being submitted to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois.
Last year, Mitsubishi settled a private harassment lawsuit brought by 29 workers at the plant, for $9.5 million.
Mitsubishi Motor Manufacturing of America is a subsidiary of Mitsubishi Motors Corp. The company manufactures the Mitsubishi Eclipse, the Eclipse Spyder convertible and Galant. It also makes the Dodge Avenger and Chrysler Sebring.