Former Anheuser-Busch official loses gender discrimination lawsuit

The case highlighted some of the issues related to pay disparity for women

Francine Katz has lost her gender discrimination lawsuit against Anheuser-Busch, in a case that highlighted the issue of pay disparity.

The jury took over 10 hours last week to deliberate, then nine of the 12 jurors voted in favor of the brewery. The jurors included seven women and five men, according to a report from the St. Louis Business Journal. They reviewed statements and evidence presented during 13 days of testimony.

During the case, Katz, who was the company’s vice president of communications and consumer affairs until she resigned in 2008, claimed she earned less than her male counterparts, with one example being her earning less than half of her predecessor, John Jacob. She earned about $1 million in 2002, and Jacob earned $4.5 million in 2001, his final year at the job.

She was seeking $9.4 million in back pay and $4.9 million in interest. Her legal team was also after punitive damages. And her side argued that she did far more than just act as a public relations professional for the company.

But lawyers for the company said Katz was paid more than what her peers at similar companies earned. In addition, Jacob had additional duties from Katz.

Katz started as a corporate lawyer and was later named to the company’s strategy committee, InsideCounsel reported.

Local reaction to the verdict showed that the case struck a chord with many women in Missouri.

“I’m flabbergasted,” State Rep. Stacey Newman, (D-Richmond Heights), told the Business Journal. “There is a philosophy and an atmosphere throughout the country that businesses’ profits matter more than what women are taking home to their families.”

“This is a bellwether case that many executive women are watching,” Susan Lang, CEO of HooPayz, added in her statement to the newspaper. “My guess is it’s going to give other women pause about taking up this fight.”

In analyzing the verdict, Marcia McCormick, a professor at Saint Louis University School of Law, told the Business Journal, jurors may have struggled with pay comparisons.

“My gut instinct is they wanted to be able to look at a single person and compare her to that person,” McCormick told the newspaper. “The argument the plaintiff was making was, ‘Compare me to John Jacob (Katz’s predecessor and mentor) and other men on the Strategy Committee to some extent, but not totally.’ That didn’t persuade the jurors.”

“I am disappointed but I think that all the attention and discussion this lawsuit has sparked is for the good,” Katz added in her own statement to the media after hearing the verdict. “I hope this lawsuit opens the door for change. We may not have won, but you can’t ever win if you don’t try.”

Nationally, Think Progress has said studies show that highest-paid women executives earn 18 percent less than their male peers. Also, women held only 16.9 percent of company board seats in 2013, InsideCounselreported. In addition, the White House Council on Economic Advisers recently reported that on average, full-time women employees earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by men.

It is not clear if Katz will appeal the verdict.

Meanwhile, Anheuser-Busch released a statement, saying in part, “We are pleased with today’s verdict, and the jury’s acknowledgment that Francine Katz was always treated and compensated fairly during her 20 years of employment at Anheuser-Busch.” 

 

Further reading:

Former Anheuser-Busch VP sues for gender discrimination

Still a long way to go for women in the boardroom

Number of women CEOs remains low, but long-term outlook will improve

 

 

 

Contributing Author

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Ed Silverstein

Ed Silverstein is a veteran writer and editor for magazines, websites and newspapers. A graduate of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, he has won several...

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