Thursday, May 24, 2012

General Mills to Cut 850 Jobs, Roughly 425 in MN

From: Twin Cities Business, May 22, 2012, —Nataleeya Boss

General Mills, Inc., plans to cut 850 jobs worldwide, about half of which are in Minnesota, the Golden Valley-based food manufacturer announced Tuesday.

The company said that the cuts are part of a plan to lower costs and “improve organizational effectiveness.”

General Mills employs about 35,000 globally, including about 5,500 in Minnesota. The cuts will mostly affect administrative and support positions, and they include layoffs as well as open jobs that will remain unfilled, General Mills spokeswoman Kirstie Foster told Twin Cities Business in a Tuesday e-mail.

The company said it will invest its savings from the job cuts to support future growth strategies and “to accelerate innovation across General Mills’ global business platforms.”

During General Mills’ third-quarter earnings call in March, CEO Ken Powell told investors that the company has recently experienced “a particularly challenging operating environment with commodity inflation the highest we’ve seen in 30 years.” In addition, slow economic recovery has kept many consumer budgets tight, he said.

The company’s net income during the first three quarters of its current fiscal year totaled $1.2 billion, representing a 16 percent decline from the same period a year earlier. Net income for the third quarter that ended February 26 totaled $391.5 million, almost flat with $392.1 million a year earlier.

Meanwhile, sales for both the third quarter and the first three quarters of the year rose about 12 percent.
In its Tuesday announcement about the job cuts, the company said that its previous earnings forecast for the full fiscal year hasn’t changed, and it expects to earn between $2.53 and $2.55 a share.

Meanwhile, the company plans to invest about $13 million in new production equipment as part of its restructuring plan. It expects the plan to result in total pretax charges of about $109 million, including the investment in new equipment and severance packages for the laid-off employees.

The company said about $94 million of those charges will be recorded in its fiscal fourth quarter, which ends Sunday. The rest will be recorded in its next fiscal year.

General Mills is the eighth-largest public company in Minnesota based on revenue, which totaled $14.8 billion for the fiscal year that ended in May 2011.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Minnesota to Pay Damages, Insurance Coverage to Resolve EEOC Age Discrimination Lawsuit

Published May 3, 2012

By the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission:

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced today that a federal judge has approved a consent decree requiring the Minnesota Board of Public Defense (BOPD) to make restitution to settle an EEOC age discrimination lawsuit.

The BOPD must pay $53,000 to four former employees who were denied employer contributions for retiree health and dental insurance because they were older than age 55 at the time that they retired.  The BOPD must also to offer to pay future premium costs for one of the employees who would still be entitled to receive them but for the unlawful early retirement provision.

This decree, entered by federal Judge Richard Kyle, resolves the last in a series of cases brought by the EEOC against Minnesota state agencies regarding early retirement incentive plans contained in collective bargaining agreements for certain employees.  The incentive plans provided that the employee had to retire by age 55 to obtain the incentive, and would lose it if he or she worked longer.
For an employee who did retire by age 55, the employer continued to pay the employer’s share of the insurance premiums which generally ranged from 85% to 100% of the total amount of the premium—and continued to do so until the retiree reached age 65.  For an employee who retired after age 55, the employer paid nothing, and the cost of retiree insurance fell entirely on the retired employee.

Thus, explained EEOC Senior Trial Attorney Laurie Vasichek, who led the litigation team on the cases, “Not retiring by age 55 was like stepping off a cliff as far retiree medical insurance was concerned, and the parties to the collective bargaining agreements referred to this provision as the ‘Age 55 Cliff.’”

The EEOC contended that the “Age 55 Cliff” was unlawful age discrimination.  Courts agreed, with the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirming a judgment by U.S. District Court Judge Paul A. Magnuson, which held that the early retirement incentives were arbitrary age discrimination.

The settlement with the BOPD is believed to resolve the final case in which the “Age 55 Cliff” was challenged.  The EEOC brought cases against six different state agencies in all.  In total, the EEOC obtained, through court judgments and consent decrees, just under $2 million in lost premium contributions, which were distributed to approximately 85 people.  The state also paid the employers’ share of health and dental insurance to those claimants who were eligible for it but for their age.

“As the courts recognized, it is arbitrary and unlawful for employers to maintain incentive plans that explicitly reduce benefits as people grow older,” said EEOC Regional Attorney John Hendrickson.  “Paying benefits for younger retirees while not paying the same benefits for other retirees — merely because the latter were older at the time of retirement — is pure and simple age discrimination, and it is unlawful.  But the situation has now been corrected, and we commend the state of Minnesota for working with the EEOC to resolve these cases.”

In addition to Hendrickson and Vasichek, the EEOC’s litigation team included Associate Regional Attorney Jean Kamp as well as Nicholas Pladson and Jessica Palmer-Denig, trial attorneys in the EEOC’s Minneapolis office.

The EEOC’s Chicago District Office is responsible for processing discrimination charges, administrative enforcement, and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and North and South Dakota, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.

The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination.  Further information about the EEOC is available on its website at

Friday, May 11, 2012

Muslim woman wins $5 million in punitive damages from AT&T in workplace discrimination suit

From:  The Washington Post

By Associated Press, Published: May 5, 2012

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A former Kansas City woman who converted to Islam in 2005 said she was harassed for years at AT&T, and that the abuse boiled over in 2008 when her boss snatched her head scarf and exposed her hair.

A Jackson County jury on Thursday awarded Susann Bashir $5 million in punitive damages in her discrimination lawsuit, along with $120,000 in lost wages and other actual damages.

The Kansas City Star ( ) reported Saturday the award appears to be the largest jury verdict for a workplace discrimination case in Missouri history.

Bashir said in court documents that her work environment became hostile immediately after she converted, with her co-workers making harassing comments about her religion and referring to her hijab as “that thing on her head.”

“I was shocked. I thought, ‘What is going on?’” she told the newspaper. “Nobody ever cared what I wore before. Nobody ever cared what religion I was before.”

Bashir worked at AT&T’s office in Kansas City for 10 years as a fiber optics network builder before being fired from her $70,000-a-year job. She claimed she endured religious discrimination nearly every day of the final three years she worked there, including being asked if she was going to blow up the building and being called a “towelhead” and a terrorist.

AT&T said Friday it disagrees with the verdict and plans to appeal.

Despite the jury’s award, Bashir stands to receive much less than $5 million because Missouri law caps such awards at five times the actual damage amount, plus attorney fees.

Amy Coopman, Bashir’s lawyer, said attorney fees will be determined later by the judge.

The previous largest such verdict came in 2009, when Mohamed Alhalabi, an Arab-American Muslim, was awarded $811,949 in St. Louis County Circuit Court in a case against the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

That same year, a Jonesboro, Ark., jury ordered AT&T to pay $1.3 million to two former employees fired for attending a Jehovah’s Witnesses convention.

Bashir said she called an employee help line in March 2005 and asked the company to provide sensitivity training for her co-workers.

“It was a worthless call,” she said. “Nothing ever changed.”

The harassment continued and in March 2008, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission launched an investigation after she filed a complaint.

She said that made some workers angry and led to the final encounter with her boss.

Bashir said she became so stressed out that she couldn’t return to work. She asked that her boss be removed or that she be transferred, but neither happened.

She was fired after not returning to work for nine months.

“By firing me, they stole my ability to work at a job I liked,” Bashir said.

She said the incident was hard on her mentally and physically and tore her family apart. She is going through a divorce, and in October she and her daughter moved to Anchorage, Alaska, where she works as an apartment manager.

“I have mixed feelings,” Bashir said. “I’m happy not to be reporting to that management structure. But it’s hard in this economy to find a job with that level of compensation. I didn’t want to lose my job, because I felt I was doing good work.”

Information from: The Kansas City Star,