Black workers get $21.4M Kodak settlement

CAROLYN THOMPSON, Associated Press Writer

BUFFALO, New York (AP) — Eastman Kodak Co. has agreed to pay $21.4 million to settle legal action brought by black workers who claim the photography products maker paid and promoted them less than their white co-workers.

The deal was given preliminary approval by a federal judge last month, according to court documents. It would have the Rochester-based company, while admitting no wrongdoing, pay amounts ranging from $1,000 to $75,000 to 3,021 past and current workers.

The proposed settlement would end both a 2004 class-action lawsuit brought by a group called Employees Committed for Justice and a similar suit filed by other black workers in 2007.

Kodak spokesman Christopher Veronda said the company and plaintiffs had agreed not to publicly discuss the proposed settlement. He provided a written statement that said all sides “believe that this settlement represents a resolution of mutual interest.”

“The parties took into account the risk of further litigation, including the potential for significant delay as well as the potential for further lengthy and expensive legal proceedings,” the statement said.

As part of the deal, Kodak promised to enhance its diversity training for supervisors and said it would hire an industrial psychologist and labor statistician to review its pay and promotion policies and recommend improvements.

A final approval hearing is scheduled for Sept. 15 in federal court in Rochester.

The settlement comes a decade after Kodak paid $10 million in back wages and granted $3 million in annual raises to correct disparities in pay and promotions for black and female workers in some departments dating to 1996.

Plaintiffs in the 2004 lawsuit charged that the 1999 program did nothing to correct Kodak’s discriminatory practices and accused the company of maintaining “a work environment that is hostile to its African American employees.”

Plaintiffs said that in addition to being passed over for promotions, they were subject to racist comments from co-workers and supervisors and graffiti on bathroom walls, lockers and delivery trucks.

One of the plaintiffs, reached Wednesday by phone, declined to comment on the settlement, saying she had signed a confidentiality agreement.

A call to the group’s lead attorney, Shanon Carson of the Philadelphia firm Berger & Montague, was not immediately returned.

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