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The Kroger Co. has agreed to a $16 million settlement relating to a 2001 class action lawsuit filed by a dozen African-American Kroger employees who alleged that they were discriminated against.
The suit stems from the plaintiffs' claims that Kroger blocked the promotions of African-American employees and paid them less than whites in similar positions from 1997 to 2001. The lawsuit further alleged that the chain also harassed employees.
A judge has yet to approve any agreement in the suit filed in 2001 in U.S. District Court in Louisville, Ky., which names 12 workers in six states on behalf of blacks who work for Kroger nationwide.
The company did not admit any wrongdoing or liability, according to the terms of the settlement, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky in Louisville.
In a memo sent to employees earlier this week, Kroger's chairman and c.e.o., David Dillon, said the money will be placed in a fund and disbursed among blacks who meet certain criteria. He further affirmed that Kroger takes policies against discrimination seriously, noting, "We have taken steps over the past several years to build an inclusive culture that demonstrates our commitment to all associates."
The memo went on to say that since the lawsuit was filed, the company has hired a chief diversity officer to "recruit, hire, train and retain a diverse workforce;" offered companywide job postings; created a network of cultural councils to resolve issues, and formalized a performance-review process to get better feedback.
"We are committed to helping all associates to reach their greatest potential," Dillon said on the memo. "If you see us going off track, please talk to your manager or contact human resources. With your involvement and support, we will continue to strengthen our performance as a truly inclusive company."
Nathaniel Jones, retired judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati, will serve as special master to resolve any disagreements between the parties relating to the settlement.
The plaintiffs are represented by attorneys from Cohen, Milstein, Hausfield & Toll PLLC in Washington, D.C., and Wiggins, Childs, Quinn & Pantazis LLC in Birmingham, Ala. For its part, Kroger, operates more than 2,400 supermarkets and multi-department stores in 31 states, is represented by Littler Mendelson PC and Seyfarth Shaw LLP in Chicago.