The government says Mitsubishi Motor Manufacturing of America Inc. has agreed to pay the largest settlement in the history of civil rights litigation to end a federal lawsuit over sexual harassment at its Normal, Ill., assembly plant.
Under terms of a proposed consent decree between Mitsubishi and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the automaker will pay a total of $34 million to current and former female employees who can prove they were victims of sexual harassment on the job.
The amount was agreed to after 20 months of negotiations between Mitsubishi and the EEOC. The commission will take claims from employees, slot them into one of five tiers depending on the severity of the harassment and its consequences, and then determine a payout for each tier within the $34 million limit.
Punitive damages in such cases are capped at $300,000 per person under a 1991 amendment to the Civil Rights Act. Government attorneys say there could be 350 to 450 recipients. Employees whose claims are rejected will be able to appeal to a judge overseeing the process.
Mitsubishi also agreed to have a three-member panel monitor its compliance with the decree. The panel will include a company representative, an EEOC representative and Chicago labor attorney George Galland, who filed the first private lawsuit against Mitsubishi on behalf of female plant workers.
The panel also may require Mitsubishi to rewrite its sexual harassment policy and complaint procedure to make it easier for employees to report problems. The company must follow up on sexual harassment complaints within three weeks and prepare written findings within four weeks.
The decree was announced last Thursday, June 11, and submitted to the U.S. District Court for Central Illinois for approval by Judge Joe Billy McDade. McDade has been hearing the EEOC's lawsuit against Mitsubishi since it was filed in April 1996. He is expected to rule on the proposal within two weeks.
Mitsubishi Motor Manufacturing of America is the U.S. car-building subsidiary of Japan's Mitsubishi Motors Corp. The president of Mitsubishi Motors Corp., Katsuhiko Kawasoe, called the settlement 'the right business decision in order to be able to move forward.'
Last September, Mitsubishi paid an undisclosed sum to 27 female workers to settle a private lawsuit filed in 1994 over sexual harassment and discrimination at the plant. Those workers cannot make claims under the government's settlement.
The lawsuit was followed by a national boycott of Mitsubishi products called by the National Organization for Women and civil rights leader Jesse Jackson. The boycott was called off last year after Jackson met with Mitsubishi executives in Japan.